THE PHILIPPINES has logged 910 more infections involving more contagious subvariants of the Omicron coronavirus, the Department of Health (DoH) said on Wednesday.

Of the total, 816 were BA.5, 42 were BA.4, and 52 were BA.2.12.1 cases, Health Officer-in-Charge and Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire told a televised news briefing.

Majority of the patients have recovered, she said, adding that the Philippines remained at low risk from the virus despite rising infections.

Most COVID-19 admissions were asymptomatic and mild, she said. “The number of severe and critical admissions remains fewer than 1,000 at the national level.”

Ms. Vergeire said they would start a campaign on July 26 that would encourage more Filipinos to get booster shots against the coronavirus. Under the campaign, the government aims to fully vaccinate 90% of senior citizens and give booster shots to 50% of the target population in the first 100 days of President Ferdinand R. Marcos, Jr. in office, Ms. Vergeire said.

More than 71.4 million people had been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus as of July 19. More than 1.1 million people have received their second booster shot. 

Meanwhile, Mr. Marcos has ordered the Department of Education (DepEd) to allow blended learning in some areas if the country, rejecting the agency’s plan to mandate full face-to-face classes starting November.

“We continue with blended learning but in very specific places only,” he said during a Tuesday meeting with Vice President Sara Duterte-Carpio in mixed English and Filipino, according to a statement from the presidential palace. “As much as possible, it should be face-to-face.”

Mr. Marcos asked DepEd to prepare the learning devices and other supplies needed for blended learning. The President did not identify the areas covered by his order.

Ms. Carpio’s first order as Education chief mandates all public and private schools to implement five days of physical classes starting Nov. 2.

She earlier said classes would start on Aug. 22 amid a coronavirus pandemic, despite calls to move the new school year to September. 

The Teachers’ Dignity Coalition earlier asked DepEd to move the school year to mid-September or the first week of October to give teachers more time to rest and prepare, saying they had been working even during the break.

Under the order, all public and private schools must transition to five days of face-to-face classes.

“Starting Nov. 2, all public and private schools shall have transitioned to five days of in-person classes,” according to the order. Pure distance or blended learning except for schools that are implementing an alternative mode won’t be allowed.

DepEd said it would give schools “ample time to slowly transition” by implementing any of the following options: five days of face-to-face classes, blended learning, three days of in-person classes and two days of distance learning, four days of in-person classes and a day of distance learning or full distance learning. Schools may enforce these until Oct. 21. 

But Ms. Carpio said private schools that fail to start physical classes on Nov. 2 won’t be penalized. 

Some private schools have said they would not implement five days of in-person classes, citing their dialogues with parents.

In a statement, Ms. Duterte-Carpio said the president had agreed during the meeting that a plan for blended learning scheme “should be made with a caveat that face-to-face classes shall be the priority and blended modality shall be considered only in specific schools and areas with special circumstances.”

“DepEd will prepare a plan to be reviewed by the president,” Ms. Carpio said. “No details are forthcoming anytime soon.”

“The requirement of the five-day in-person classes by November 2, 2022 is still in effect,” she added. 

The Philippines was among the last countries to reopen schools physically after a global coronavirus pandemic was declared in 2020. 

A year of school closures cost about P10.8 trillion in productivity and wage losses over the next 40 years, according to the National Economic and Development Authority.

The President ordered DepEd and other agencies to address issues related to the reopening of physical classes, including internet connectivity, the palace said.

Mr. Marcos, 64, also expressed concerns about the increasing number of new coronavirus infections driven by highly contagious Omicron subvariants, it added.

“He was concerned that those issues might affect the implementation of in-person learning, but he was nevertheless determined to proceed with the plan.” — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza