File photo of Health Secretary Francisco Duque III
The STAR/ Mong Pintolo
Duque: I was stressing school safety measures, not contradicting Duterte on class resumption
Bella Perez-Rubio ( - May 27, 2020 - 3:59pm

MANILA, Philippines — Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Wednesday said his statement that it would be safe for classes to resume on August 24 does not contradict President Rodrigo Duterte's preference to keep students out of schools until a COVID-19 vaccine is available.

The president earlier this week said at an Inter-Agency Task Force on the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases meeting that he would not want classes to resume without a vaccine.

"I only said that maintaining the minimum health standard was necessary. The frequent washing of the hands and statement was complementary to the president's," Duque said in Filipino during a radio interview with DZBB on Wednesday. 

"President Duterte is correct...face-to-face would be dangerous without a vaccine, I was trying to emphasize the minimum health standard," he added in Filipino. 

However, it seemed clear in his previously reported statements that he was referring to face-to-face or physical classes, which may be held in combination with online or virtual classes. 

"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. 

At the same Senate hearing, the health secretary added that schools should adopt thermal scanning measures and make hand sanitizers and alcohol readily available — measures that would, obviously, not be necessary for classes done remotely.

In this file photo from May 31, 2020, students at Commonwealth High School in Quezon City attend a simulation of classes before the opening of the new school year. The STAR/Boy Santos, file

Resumption of classes on August 24, pushing through 

Despite the president's previous statements rejecting the imminent resumption of classes, his spokesperson Harry Roque said Wednesday that enrollment on June 1 would be pushing through for public schools.

He added that classes are still expected to resume on August 24. 

"We are preparing for the possibility of both: Face-to-face and blended learning," Roque said in a radio interview with DZMM. He added that the government is currently analyzing data to decide on whether the country would have reached "new normal" status by August 24. 

If the country fails to reach "new normal" status by August 24, Roque said classes will proceed through what he called blended learning. He added that "blended learning" would involve the use of community TV, radio stations, and the internet. 

It remains unclear what would constitute a “new normal” situation — the Joint Task Force COVID-19 Shield, the quarantine enforcement arm of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Emerging Infectious Diseases, previously defined it as the strict measures under the general community quarantine. 

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