Health expert: Efforts to reopen economy must include schools

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 19) — A health expert is questioning why opening schools again isn't part of efforts to further reopen the economy.

"If we really want to open everything, why don't we just start with schools first?" infectious disease expert Dr. Benjamin Co told CNN Philippines' The Exchange with Rico Hizon.

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Dr. Co further asked: "What is the rationale for opening a video arcade or opening a movie house when we don't even consider reopening schools way ahead?"

Cinemas and game arcades are among the leisure establishments allowed by the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases to operate in areas under general community quarantine.

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The health expert explained that moves to open schools to the public again don't necessarily need to begin in the National Capital Region, noting its reproduction rate currently rests above the threshold of 1. Latest data from the Health Department shows NCR has logged over 229,000 cases, the highest among all regions.

Such efforts can be done instead in areas where transmission is low.

"Let's be practical about it. There are areas that we can allow the reopening of schools and we need to consider that first and foremost," Dr. Co said.

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Face-to-face classes remain prohibited, with students and teachers alike embarking on distance learning sans a public rollout of vaccines. A pilot was supposed to be held in select schools in areas tagged as low-risk for the coronavirus last January, but President Rodrigo Duterte recalled his order in light of the threat posed by the UK COVID-19 variant.

Metro Manila mayors recently voted in favor of shifting the region to modified GCQ by March in a 9-8 split vote. This comes after the National Economic and Development Authority proposed placing the entire country under the lowest quarantine status starting next month, arguing that prolonging the lockdown will only worsen hunger and poverty nationwide.