ABOUT 23 million students have enrolled, less than two weeks before classes open amid a coronavirus pandemic, the Department of Education said on Wednesday.

About four million students did not enroll, the agency said, adding that the registration rate was 83% of students who enrolled last year, Education Undersecretary Nepomuceno A. Malaluan told senators on Wednesday.

Out of 23 million basic education students, 21.4 million were enrolled in public schools, while the rest were in private schools, he told the Senate education committee.

About 333,000 students were under alternative learning systems, he added.

Mr. Malaluan said 22.5 million students enrolled in public schools last year, while 4.3 million were enrolled in private schools. He said public school students who enrolled were about a million fewer this year, while private school students were about 2.8 million fewer.

“To sum it up, we have an extraordinary nonparticipation on account of COVID, as of today, that is about four million learners,” Mr. Malaluan said in Filipino.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte locked down the entire Luzon island in mid-March, suspending work, classes and public transportation to contain a coronavirus pandemic. People should stay home except to buy food and other basic goods, he said.

He extended the lockdown for the island twice and thrice for Metro Manila. But the President put back Manila and nearby provinces under a strict lockdown until Aug. 18 after a fresh surge in infections.

Senator Sherwin T. Gatchalian, who heads the committee, said DepEd should consider postponing  the opening of classes in high-risk areas.

“The reason why we moved to a modified enhanced community quarantine is because the situation is worsening and we need to arrest that situation,” Mr. Gatchalian said at the hearing. “How can we mobilize our teachers, if the situation is worsening?”

He also said the house-to-house distribution of the self-learning modules was disrupted by the stricter lockdown. While this may be lifted Aug. 19, teachers will only have five days to resume delivery before the Aug. 24 opening, he added.

“We don’t have any way of predicting after Aug. 19 if the situation will improve, Mr. Gatchalian said.  Charmaine A. Tadalan