Face-to-face classes for medical programs OK’d

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    PRESIDENT Duterte on Monday night approved the resumption of face-to-face (F2F) classes for medical and allied health programs in higher education institutions (HEIs) in areas under modified general community quarantine (MGCQ).

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque yesterday said HEIs with base hospitals that cater to COVID-19 patients and are located in areas under general community quarantine (GCQ) are also allowed to resume their in-person classes.

    “This is so we can avoid running out of doctors if the face-to-face classes of student doctors and allied medical profession do not continue,” Roque said.

    Prior to Roque’s announcement, the Commission on Higher Education approved the holding of limited face-to-face classes for medical and allied health programs in HEIs only in MGCQ areas. The IATF last year likewise approved the in-person clinical internship program of the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital.

    The IATF said the approval of the limited face-to-face classes for HEIs with medical and allied health programs will be made on a “case to case basis” based on the results of the inspections it did last year.

    The President last month approved the planned pilot testing of face to face classes in select schools in areas with low-risk of infection by the Department of Education (DepEd) starting January but later withdrew it following the emergence of new variants of the COVID-19 virus.

    Also on Monday night, Duterte recalled the IATF decision allowing 10 to 14-year-old children living in MGCQ areas to go out starting February 1.

    The easing of the age restrictions was proposed by the Department of Trade and Industry to boost economic spending.

    “Balik ho kayo sa bahay muna (Please go back to your homes). These 10 years old to 14, they can glue their attention on the television set the whole day. Pasensiya na po kayo (I am sorry). Mine is just a precaution… Takot lang ako kasi itong bagong (I am scared right now because this new) strain strikes the young children Duterte said in his weekly public address.

    Addressing criticisms over the government’s flip-flops on its COVID-19 responses, Roque said this was not the case since the IATF, which is supposed to be the administration’s policy-making body specifically for the COVID-19 pandemic, is only a recommendatory body that was created to assist the President in making decisions in connection with the pandemic.

    “IATF was created by the President to assist him as a recommendatory body. In fact, the IATF has no legislative foundation other than the exercise of executive power. So hindi naman po tayo nag-uurong-sulong (So, we are not really flip-flopping),” Roque said.

    Education Secretary Leonor Briones, during the Laging Handa public briefing, said her department supports the President’s decision in light of the need for more information about the new COVID-19 strain.

    She added that the President also has the authority to decide on the implementation or closure of certain programs and policies that affect the education system.

    Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said the DTI will continue with its current support programs to businesses following the decision of Duterte to revert back to 15 years old the minimum age allowed outside their homes.

    Lopez said these programs, such as those under Bayanihan 2, are aimed at supporting micro, small and medium enterprises to generate jobs and enhance consumer confidence while complying with the minimum health protocols to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus disease 2019.

    “We follow the wisdom of our President. He asks us to study further the new variant because it might spread and the blame might be put on the easing of age restriction,” Lopez said.

    Roque yesterday said the number of COVID-19 infections have been increasing these past two weeks, citing records of the Department of Health (DOH) during the first two weeks of January.

    Saying that the increase was “likely the surge due to the Christmas holidays,” Roque appealed to the public to strictly comply with minimum health protocols to bring down the number of infections.

    In an online press briefing, Roque said the following regions recorded an increase in cases for the past two weeks: National Capital Region (NCR) Ilocos (Region I), Cagayan Valley (Region II), Central Luzon (Region III), Calabarzon (Region IV-A), Central Visayas (Region VII), Eastern Visayas (Region VIII), Zamboanga Peninsula (Region IX), Northern Mindanao (Region X), Davao Region (Region XI) and Caraga.

    Roque said the DOH also reported that the provinces of Kalinga, Mt. Province, Aurora, Ifugao, Catanduanes, Apayao, Basilan, Antique, Romblon, Masbate, Bukidnon, Davao Occidental, Abra, Compostela Valley, Cebu, Mandaue City, Sulu at Cebu City are now considered as “high risk” areas due to high growth rate of infection.

    Roque said the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases (IATF-EID) was set to meet Tuesday and discuss new community quarantine classifications for February. – With Irma Isip