Filipino parents, teachers urge U-turn over government’s back-to-school plans

Filipino parents, teachers urge U-turn over government’s back-to-school plans
Teachers wearing face masks and shields against COVID-19 teleconference with students, helping them in their school lessons through online distance learning. (File/AFP)
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Updated 22 September 2021

Filipino parents, teachers urge U-turn over government’s back-to-school plans

Filipino parents, teachers urge U-turn over government’s back-to-school plans
  • Classroom return ‘experiment’ in low-risk COVID-19 areas draws mixed reactions

MANILA: Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte’s thumbs-up for a limited return to classrooms for students in areas with low numbers of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases has been criticized by worried parents and teachers.

The leader’s approval for the resumption of in-person classes in “low risk” parts of the Philippines on Tuesday drew mixed reactions with some objectors urging the government to reconsider its decision.

The government said on Monday that for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak it would reopen nearly 120 schools as part of a “pilot” project.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque pointed out that the move was necessary because otherwise, “we might lose a generation if we don’t have face-to-face (classes).”

According to a report by the UN children’s agency UNICEF, the Philippines was among 17 countries globally where schools had remained completely shut throughout the pandemic, highlighting what it described as “18 months of lost learning.”

Benjo Basas, national chairperson of the Teachers’ Dignity Coalition, an umbrella organization of public-school teachers’ associations, told Arab News that the Philippines’ decision was “untimely and dangerous” given the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the country, and would only put further pressure on an overwhelmed healthcare system.

He said: “Our government has yet to fix its COVID-19 response, and the more than 20,000 new cases posted almost every day over the past week can attest to that. If in-person classes will push through, it’s like putting people at risk, especially the children.”

On Tuesday, Filipino health authorities reported 16,361 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number of infections in the country to 2,401,916. Of those, 2,193,700 (91.3 percent) people had recovered, while 37,074 (1.54 percent) had died.

Basas pointed out that any resumption of face-to-face classes should be carefully planned, and the Department of Education must guarantee the safety of all participants before questioning who would be held accountable if someone gets infected at school.

“While we agree that there is no better alternative to face-to-face learning, the current pandemic situation does not allow for this. Education can be delayed. What is more important at the moment, is the lives and health of everyone,” he added.

During a press conference, Education Secretary Leonor Briones said the pilot scheme would cover 100 public schools and 20 private institutions, limiting class sizes to 12 learners in kindergarten, 16 in grades one to three, and 20 at senior high school level.

Meanwhile, the classes would be limited to three- to four-hour sessions based on “consent from parents and guardians. If there are changes in the risk assessment, then we will stop it,” she added.

As per guidelines released on Monday, public schools would need to pass a “readiness assessment” before reopening while private schools would be subject to a joint validation by the departments of education and health.

The guidance said: “We reiterate our demand for a science-based and evidence-based risk assessment for all participating schools. These shall help determine their present condition and urgent needs for the safe conduct of in-classroom learning, which the government shall immediately address.”

Some parents, however, have said they would refuse to allow their children to become part of an “experiment.”

Lee Reyes, 36, who has three children in grade school, told Arab News she would never risk the health and safety of her sons and daughter.

“For what reason? (To protect them from) COVID-19? If some adults, despite being vaccinated, still get infected, what about unvaccinated children? Also, kids are kids. Grown-ups tend to forget social distancing, and some even take off their masks. So, no. I would rather spend time helping my children learn their lessons from home,” she said.

Another mother, Lei, 50, also voiced concerns over the safety of her children, one at college and vaccinated, and the other in junior high school and unjabbed.

She said: “If my eldest child has to commute every day, there is a risk. Or even if I let her stay at the dorm. Although I know I need to teach her to be independent, now is not the best time during a pandemic and the flu season.”

In a Facebook post, parent Bella Mel, said: “Better safe than sorry. Because if our children get sick, it will only be them who will suffer. And there’s no Department of Education to help shoulder the hospital bills. So why push for it? Let’s just accept this is the new normal.”


President: Deadly blast in Ugandan capital a ‘terrorist act’

President: Deadly blast in Ugandan capital a ‘terrorist act’
Updated 11 sec ago

President: Deadly blast in Ugandan capital a ‘terrorist act’

President: Deadly blast in Ugandan capital a ‘terrorist act’
  • ‘It seems to be a terrorist act but we shall get the perpetrators’
KAMPALA: Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said Sunday that an explosion in the capital Kampala that killed one and injured five was “a terrorist act” and vowed to hunt down those responsible.
“It seems to be a terrorist act but we shall get the perpetrators,” Museveni said in a Twitter post about the explosion late Saturday at a popular restaurant strip in northern Kampala.

Strong quake strikes northern Taiwan

Strong quake strikes northern Taiwan
Updated 39 min 34 sec ago

Strong quake strikes northern Taiwan

Strong quake strikes northern Taiwan
  • Taiwan’s central weather bureau said the quake was of magnitude 6.5 while the US Geological Survey gave a lower figure of 6.2

TAIPEI: A strong earthquake struck northeastern Taiwan on Sunday, with residents reporting violent shaking in the capital Taipei but there were no immediate reports of widespread damage.
Taiwan’s central weather bureau said the quake was of magnitude 6.5 while the US Geological Survey gave a lower figure of 6.2.
It hit northeastern Yilan county at 1:11 p.m. (0511 GMT) at a depth of 67 kilometers (42 miles).
An AFP reporter who lives in Yilan said the shaking seemed to last some 30 seconds.
“The walls of the house were shaking, both sideways and up and down, it felt quite strong,” the reporter said.
There was no damage in his neighborhood.
The main quake was followed by a 5.4-magnitude aftershock and Taipei’s MRT metro system shut down as a precaution for a little under an hour before service resumed.
Tom Parker, a British illustrator who lives in Taipei, said he was riding the subway when the quake hit.
“First time I’ve felt a quake on the MRT. Like a tame rollercoaster,” he tweeted, adding he and other commuters were told to shelter in place in the station for now.
Many others reported the tremor on social media.
“I was scared to death, I screamed in my room,” Yu Ting wrote on Facebook.
“This earthquake is really big, glass has shattered in my living room.”
Some grocery stores reported food and other goods were thrown from shelves by the shaking.
Taiwan is regularly hit by earthquakes as the island lies near the junction of two tectonic plates.
Some earthquakes of this magnitude can prove deadly, although much depends on where the quake strikes and at what depth.
Hualien, a scenic tourist hotspot, was struck by a 6.4-magnitude earthquake in 2018 that killed 17 people and injured nearly 300.
In September 1999, a 7.6-magnitude quake killed around 2,400 people in the deadliest natural disaster in the island’s history.
However, a 6.2 earthquake struck in December 2020 in Yilan with no major damage or injuries reported.


Myanmar says it’s committed to ASEAN peace plan, despite military leader’s snub

Myanmar says it’s committed to ASEAN peace plan, despite military leader’s snub
Updated 24 October 2021

Myanmar says it’s committed to ASEAN peace plan, despite military leader’s snub

Myanmar says it’s committed to ASEAN peace plan, despite military leader’s snub
  • Junta says it upholds the principal of peaceful coexistence with other countries and would cooperate with the ASEAN
  • Myanmar leadership accuses ASEAN of departing from its principals on consensus and non-interference

Myanmar’s military rulers pledged on Sunday to cooperate “as much as possible” with a peace plan agreed with ASEAN, despite a stern rebuke of the regional bloc for excluding the country’s top commander from a summit this week.
In an announcement in state media on Sunday, the junta said it upholds the principal of peaceful coexistence with other countries and would cooperate with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in following a five-point “consensus” agreed in April, a plan backed by the West and China.
ASEAN foreign ministers decided on Oct. 15 to sideline Min Aung Hlaing, leader of a Feb. 1 Myanmar coup, for his failure to implement that plan, which included ending hostilities, initiating dialogue, allowing humanitarian support and granting a special envoy full access in the country.
The junta struck back late on Friday, accusing ASEAN of departing from its principals on consensus and non-interference. It refused to agree to send a politically neutral Myanmar representative instead of Min Aung Hlaing.
ASEAN chair Brunei has not responded to Myanmar’s rejection.
A spokesman for Thailand’s foreign ministry declined to comment on Saturday, citing the sensitivity of the matter, while Indonesia’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Teuku Faizasyah, said ASEAN’s consensus on who would represent Myanmar at the summit was the “common guide for all ASEAN members.”
The exclusion is an unprecedented snub from a bloc long criticized for being tardy and ineffective at dealing with member governments accused of atrocities.
More than 1,000 civilians have been killed in a post-coup crackdown in Myanmar, with thousands more detained, many tortured or beaten, according to the United Nations, citing activists. The junta is accused of using excessive military force against civilian populations.
The junta has insisted many of those killed or detained were “terrorists” determined to destabilize the country. The junta chief last week said opposition forces were prolonging the unrest.
ASEAN’s special envoy, Erywan Yusof of Brunei, had sought a meeting with ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, but the military government said that was impossible because she was detained and charged with crimes.
The junta warned Erywan not to engage with opposition forces it has outlawed, including the shadow National Unity Government, an alliance of pro-democracy and armed ethnic groups, Japanese broadcaster NHK said, citing an unpublished report.
A Myanmar military spokesman and Erywan’s office did not immediately respond to separate requests for comment on Sunday on the reported warning.
In Sunday’s announcement, Myanmar’s rulers first reaffirmed their own five-point plan for restoring democracy, which they announced after the coup.
The military insists it is the legitimate authority in Myanmar and its takeover was not a coup, but a necessary and lawful intervention against a threat to sovereignty posed by Suu Kyi’s party, which it said won a fraudulent election last year.


US urges North Korea to stop missile tests

US urges North Korea to stop missile tests
Updated 24 October 2021

US urges North Korea to stop missile tests

US urges North Korea to stop missile tests
  • Tuesday’s launch was the latest in a series of recent weapons tests by Pyongyang

SEOUL: The US on Sunday urged North Korea to stop “counterproductive” missile tests, but expressed hope Pyongyang would respond positively to Washington’s call for dialogue.
It comes after North Korea fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) on Tuesday, prompting an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council.
US special representative on North Korea Sung Kim met his southern counterpart Noh Kyu-duk after a meeting with their Japanese counterpart in Washington.
He labelled Tuesday’s launch a “provocation,” and urged Pyongyang to stop “concerning and counterproductive” missile tests.
“We hope the DPRK will respond positively to our outreach,” Kim told reporters in Seoul, using the acronyms of North Korea’s official same.
Tuesday’s launch was the latest in a series of recent weapons tests by the country, including a long-range cruise missile, a train-launched weapon, and what it said was a hypersonic warhead.
Earlier this month, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un blamed the United States for sanctions, dismissing Washington’s assertions that it does not have hostile intentions.
Kim met three times with former president Donald Trump, who boasted of stopping a war but failed to reach a comprehensive agreement on ending the country’s nuclear program.
President Joe Biden has promised to keep seeking diplomacy but with a more low-key approach.


Melbourne to ease more COVID-19 curbs as 80 percent vaccination rate nears

Melbourne to ease more COVID-19 curbs as 80 percent vaccination rate nears
Updated 24 October 2021

Melbourne to ease more COVID-19 curbs as 80 percent vaccination rate nears

Melbourne to ease more COVID-19 curbs as 80 percent vaccination rate nears
  • Home to about five million people, Melbourne endured nearly nine months of stay-at-home restrictions

MELBOURNE: Melbourne, the world’s most locked-down city that emerged from its latest spate of COVID-19 restrictions on Friday, will see more curbs eased next week when Victoria state reaches an 80 percent full vaccination rate, officials said on Sunday.
Home to about five million people, Melbourne endured 262 days, or nearly nine months, of stay-at-home restrictions during six lockdowns since March 2020, longer than the 234-day continuous lockdown in Buenos Aires.
Starting on Friday, when 80 percent of people across Victoria — of which Melbourne is the capital — are expected to be fully vaccinated, Melburnians will be free to travel throughout the state and masks will no longer be required outdoors.
“There’s a fundamental agreement that we have reached with the Victorian community, we asked you to get vaccinated, you have done that in record time and record numbers,” Premier Daniel Andrews said.
With a once-sputtering vaccine rollout now at full speed, authorities across Australia no longer plan to rely on extended lockdowns to suppress the virus. Victoria recorded 1,935 new coronavirus cases and 11 deaths on Sunday.
As the state moves toward a “vaccinated economy” in which only fully inoculated people will be allowed into venues, a 90 percent percent rate is expected around Nov. 24, Andrews said.
He added that he wanted to see crowds in excess of 80,000 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the Boxing Day Test on Dec. 26 between Australia and England.
“It’s our approach to try and achieve life as close to normal as possible,” Andrews said.
Australians overwhelmingly support vaccinations, with research by the Melbourne Institute at the University of Melbourne, showing in October that only 6.9 percent of the population were unwilling to be inoculated.
New South Wales state, whose capital Sydney spent 100 days in a lockdown that ended earlier this month, recorded 296 new COVID-19 cases and four deaths. Nearly 85 percent of the state’s population have been fully vaccinated.
New Zealand, which is also learning to live with the virus through vaccinations, had 80 cases on Sunday, all in the North Island. On Saturday, it reported a first COVID-19 infection in nearly a year in the country’s South Island.