ADB: Full resumption of face-to-face classes could hike COVID-19 deaths by 8 percent
MANILA, Philippines—Full resumption of face-to-face classes in Philippine schools in the first half of 2021 could raise the number of COVID-19 fatalities by 8 percent, according to Asian Development Bank (ADB).
The fatality rate increase is compared to existing levels when all students are made to study off campus.
ADB, however, also estimated that keeping students physically out of school in school year 2020-2021 would cost P1.9 trillion in forgone economic opportunities.
The country’s chief economist on Wednesday (Dec. 16) said he supported a gradual and safe resumption of school activities on site.
Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick T. Chua told a forum that the planned two-week pilot run of in-person classes in January in areas with low COVID-19 infections was a “good indication” of the strides made in fighting the disease.
Chua, who heads the state planning agency National Economic and Development Authority (Neda), cited experts’ claim that it would be manageable to resume face-to-face classes in low-risk areas.
The Neda chief said it was more difficult and less productive to attend classes online, which would later on also have an impact on the quality of education that students get and their future productivity when they join the workforce.
The pilot face-to-face classes would also be a test case which will determine if the government can allow younger children to leave home, Chua said.
He said the Philippines population is relatively young, with about half or 53 million aged 25 and below.
Restricting the young from joining adults outside would also weaken consumer spending, Chua said.
Chua nonetheless pushed for a gradual resumption of face-to-face classes done as safely as possible.
An ADB brief titled “Cost–Benefit Analysis of Face-to-Face Closure of Schools to Control COVID-19 in the Philippines” published last Tuesday (Dec. 15) said that “analysis of the policy choices involved with an epidemiological model applied to the case of the Philippines finds that fully reopening schools at all levels during January to June 2021 affects total COVID-19 deaths by about 8 percent.”
In an analysis, economists David A. Raitzer, Rouselle F. Lavado, Jomar Rabajante, Xylee Javier, Ludigil Garces, and Glenita Amorantoa found that “when the new normal is maintained, overall mortality from COVID-19 from school opening is about 1,500 lives nationally, or around an 8-percent increase from the cumulative value simulated if schools were to remain closed.”
“The average age at which these deaths occur is 63, and this figure represents 0.3 percent of 2019 mortality in the Philippines,” said the ADB report.
“Closing face-to-face schooling only for those over 15 averts 60 percent of those deaths, and reduces mortality to about 600 lives, while allowing 78 percent of learners to attend face-to-face classes,” it said.
In terms of localities, fully resuming face-to-face classes in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Western Visayas, Central Visayas, and Calabarzon would be most risky, the report said.
“These regions usually have schools making up a larger share of contacts, more children in the population, more elderly in contact with children in households, and/or weaker medical capacity compared with possible treatment needs,” it added.
But the ADB report also pointed out that “protracted school closure does not appear to be especially effective in controlling COVID-19.”
It said “the pandemic risk to children is limited, as a very small share of diagnosed COVID-19 cases globally and in the Philippines is among those under 20 years of age, and severe medical outcomes, including mortality, are rare among children and adolescents.”
“Although children have high contact rates with each other in schools, they also appear to have lower susceptibility, are infectious for shorter periods, and on average have lower infectivity than adults,” ADB said.
“A number of studies find that children are unlikely to be the drivers of the epidemic and few contact tracing studies have identified major outbreak clusters traced to student-to-student transmission within schools from COVID-19 where schools have remained open,” it said.
Citing government data as of Nov. 26, the ADB report said the average mortality age of COVID-19 patients in the country was 62 years old, while those aged 20 or lower accounted for less than 10 percent of diagnosed cases as well as only 2 percent of deaths.
“Evidence on effects on transmission to older segments of the population is less clear, but suggests limited effectiveness of school closure,” according to the ADB report.
The report said “there is ample scope to use targeted measures to minimize the COVID-19 risks of face-to-face classes while benefiting overall health,” especially as “health behavior beyond COVID-19 is strongly conditioned by education.”
“Analysis shows that long-term mortality increases due to less effective education from face-to-face closure are many times higher than the number of lives saved from COVID-19 in the short run,” it said.
The economic impact would also be huge, as ADB estimates showed that the current ongoing closure of face-to-face classes would cost the economy P1.93 trillion or more than 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) for one year.
“In a cost-benefit framework that generously values morbidity and mortality, costs are about 70 times higher than COVID-19 control benefits,” the report said.
“There is also growing appreciation of the costs of school closure to the economy in the short and long run,” it said.
“In the short run, costs are borne by parents, who need to limit labor force participation to care for children at home and those employed in education, who may lose jobs. These effects are substantial,” it added.
“For example, the effects of each day of school closure on near-term GDP growth may be nearly as large as each day of workplace closure. Even more profound is the long-term effect on productivity,” ADB said.
“School closure that occurred through mid-2020 already may be sufficient to reduce lifetime earnings of current students by 3 percent, equivalent to a long-term reduction in GDP of 1.5 percent that remains in place for many decades. This is many times larger than the short-run economic effect,” it added.
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