Coronavirus: No vaccine, no school reopening in Philippines, Duterte says

An armoured personnel carrier roams around tenements reminding residents to stay indoors in the slum area of Tondo, Manila, Philippines, on May 4, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA • Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte says he will not allow students to go back to school until a coronavirus vaccine is available, even as some other countries resume in-person classes.

Children were due to return to school at the end of August after classes for more than 25 million primary and secondary students were shut down in March as the contagion took off in the Philippines.

But in a speech aired late on Monday, Mr Duterte said the risk was too great, even if it held students back academically. "Unless I am sure they are really safe it's useless to be talking about opening of classes," he said. "For me, vaccine first. If the vaccine is already there, then it's okay," he added. "If no one graduates, then so be it."

Though researchers worldwide have launched an unprecedented effort to quickly develop a vaccine, it is not clear when a viable candidate will be proven and distributed on a large scale.

Public school normally runs from June to April in the Philippines, but the authorities delayed the start as cases rose and a strict lockdown brought most of the nation to a halt.

In order to ease classroom crowding, the Education Ministry had already announced a mix of distance-learning measures, including online classes, would be used for the coming school year. Millions live in deep poverty in the Philippines and do not have access to computers at home, which would be key for the viability of online classes.

The pandemic has kept children around the globe home for months, but in-person classes have begun to resume in various countries, including South Korea and France.

The Philippines' coronavirus case count reached more than 14,600 yesterday, including 886 deaths.

Meanwhile, Thailand's military-backed government has extended the country's state of emergency for a second time, to the end of June, despite calls by the opposition to scrap it after the number of coronavirus cases dwindled.

The extension is needed to lower the risk of another wave of illness as a lockdown is eased, spokesman Narumon Pinyosinwat said yesterday after the Cabinet backed the move.

The opposition has argued that less strict legislation can manage the outbreak. It has also raised the prospect of asking a court about the lawfulness of Bills earmarking 1.9 trillion baht (S$60 billion) in stimulus to fight a recession.


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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 27, 2020, with the headline Coronavirus: No vaccine, no school reopening in Philippines, Duterte says. Subscribe