File photo of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III
The STAR/ Mong Pintolo
Duque contradicts Duterte, says it's safe for classes to resume on August 24
Bella Perez-Rubio ( - May 26, 2020 - 3:49pm

MANILA, Philippines — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Tuesday said it would be safe for classes to resume on August 24. 

He said this despite President Rodrigo Duterte's pronouncement on Monday night that he would not want classes to resume until a vaccine for the coronavirus disease becomes available. 

"We will study this even more but for now we think it's safe to reopen classes by August 24. We just need to make sure that minimum standards for health are being met. These standards include physical distancing, frequent washing of the hands, and disinfecting classrooms," Duque said in Filipino during a senate hearing Tuesday on managing health emergencies. 

The Health Secretary added that schools should adopt thermal scanning measures and make hand sanitizers and alcohol readily available. 

Duque has recently drawn ire for his handling of the COVID-19 crisis in the country. A number of senators and an umbrella group of private hospitals have asked President Rodrigo Duterte to replace his health secretary.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque maintained during Tuesday's palace briefing that Duque continues to enjoy the president's confidence. 

Roque on 'the new normal'

In the same briefing, Roque also contradicted Duterte and said that physical classes could resume on August 24 in the event that the country is already under the new normal.

Roque added that Duterte's "no vaccine, no classes" pronouncement last night only holds for as long as the community quarantine is still in place. 

"I am advising all types of schools to prepare for the new normal. They will have to be creative," the presidential spokesperson said.  

What Roque meant by "the new normal" is not entirely clear.

The Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases has previously said that strict measures under the general community quarantine will be the new normal. 

A majority of Metro Manila's mayors are in favor of shifting to general community quarantine by the end of May to alleviate the economic impact of COVID-19.

Roque said that the IATF has yet to decide if Metro Manila will remain under a modified community quarantine after May 30.  

"Let's wait for IATF to decide. We are expecting for their decision tomorrow," said Roque in Filipino.

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