EDITORIAL - Oplan Balik Eskwela

The Philippine Star

The annual Oplan Balik Eskwela kicks off today for the final preparations for the resumption of face-to-face classes next week, two years after schools were shut down due to the COVID pandemic. The OBE, which involves 17 government agencies, aims to ensure that health, peace and order, transportation, communication and other essential services for both learners and educators will be provided when the school year begins on Aug. 22.

A pediatric infectious disease expert has stressed that it cannot be business as usual when in-person classes resume after two years of blended learning. Schools need sufficient running water and sanitation facilities, proper ventilation and measures to encourage physical distancing. The expert said masking must be strictly enforced.

School premises are being cleaned and subjected to fogging against mosquitoes to prevent dengue. Among the most urgent measures, however, should be a push for greater COVID vaccination for both students and educators. Yesterday, the Department of Health reported 4,182 new infections nationwide, bringing the total confirmed COVID infections in the country to over 3.83 million, with 61,036 deaths – and these were just the recorded cases.

Active COVID cases were at 40,016, with Metro Manila accounting for the highest number in the past two weeks, at 15,767, followed by CALABARZON and then Central Luzon. The cumulative positivity rate was at 13.8 percent while a third of COVID beds are now occupied.

Many people who test positive in antigen testing no longer seek confirmatory reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction tests, so their infections are not included in the official figures of the Department of Health.

DOH officials and experts have noted a high vaccination rate among the 12 to 17 age group, but a low uptake among ages five to 11 – children from kindergarten to sixth grade. Experience worldwide has shown that Omicron subvariants can infect even the fully vaccinated and boosted, but the cases are mostly either mild or asymptomatic. Omicron, however, continues to claim the lives of the unvaccinated and the immune compromised. And it can infect unvaccinated children.

Health experts have endorsed proposals, first propounded by the private sector, to redefine the fully vaccinated to include the first COVID booster. This may help persuade the holdouts to get their booster shots. The theme of this year’s OBE is “Kapit-Bisig para sa Mas Ligtas na Balik-Aral.” Vaccination is critical for the safe resumption of in-person classes.



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