Screenshot from PTV

President Rodrigo Duterte has canceled the Department of Education’s (DepEd) nationwide pilot test that will determine which schools can hold face-to-face classes, which was scheduled to begin in January 2021.

Reversing his earlier decision, Duterte said that it would be too risky to hold face-to-face classes amidst the discovery of the new strain of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The new strain has caused some countries in Europe to instill stricter lockdowns and issue travel bans to prevent its spread.

In a live broadcast Saturday evening with members of the national Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF), Duterte announced his recall of DepEd’s nationwide pilot test, which he had approved December 14.

“I’m calling back the order and I will not allow face-to-face classes for children until we are through with this,” he said. He was referring to the discovery of a new strain of coronavirus, which infectious disease experts have found to be more infectious than earlier strains.

“I have allowed kasi the face-to-face classes as a pilot project all over the country. With the new strain, true or not, maybe it’s true because it’s being validated by Germany, South Africa, UK eh iyong order ko noon kay (Education Secretary Leonor) Briones, I’m calling back the order,” he said.

The DepEd’s nationwide pilot test was to determine which schools in identified “low risk” areas could hold face-to-face classes despite the lack of a vaccine. Duterte earlier promised not to allow face-to-face classes without the vaccine, but eventually lifted the order mid-December.

The Schools Division Office of Puerto Princesa City has nominated seven schools in rural barangays as participants in the nationwide pilot test. The office has yet to give a comment on the new development.

The new SARS-CoV-2 strain was first detected in the United Kingdom. This immediately prompted several countries to issue travel bans to UK residents. The new strain has recently been detected in eight other European countries, and in Asian countries such as Singapore and Japan.