ADB: In-person classes may hike deaths by 8%
MANILA, Philippines —Fully resuming in-person classes in the first half of next year may hike COVID-19 deaths by 8 percent compared to present levels when all students undergo off-campus classes, according to a report of the Manila-based Asian Development Bank (ADB).
But ADB estimates also showed that stopping in-person classes during the school year 2020-2021 would cost P1.9 trillion in foregone economic opportunities, prompting the country’s chief economist to push for a gradual resumption of classes which should be done as safely as possible.
Acting Socioeconomic Planning Secretary Karl Kendrick Chua said in a forum on Wednesday that the Department of Education’s (DepEd) plan to test in-person classes for two weeks in areas with low COVID-19 infections in January was manageable and would show the government if more minors of lower ages could be allowed to go to school.
Chua, who also heads the National Economic Development Authority, made the remark after the ADB released on Tuesday a study, titled “Cost-Benefit Analysis of Face-to-Face Closure of Schools to Control COVID-19 in the Philippines.”
Using an age-structured susceptible, exposed, infected and recovered model which they developed to analyze COVID-19 control policies, economists David Raitzer, Rouselle Lavado, Jomar Rabajante, Xylee Javier, Ludigil Garces, and Glenita Amorantoa said “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. 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,” the ADB report read.
In terms of localities, fully resuming in-person classes in Metro Manila, Central Luzon, Western Visayas, Central Visayas, and Calabarzon would be most risky, the report said.
However, the ADB report also pointed out that “protracted school closure does not appear to be especially effective in controlling COVID-19,” citing that “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.”
Huge economic impact
Citing government data as of Nov. 26, the ADB report said the average mortality age of COVID-19 deaths in the country was 63 years old, while those aged 20 or younger accounted for below 10 percent of diagnosed cases as well as only 2 percent of deaths.
The economic impact would also be huge, as ADB estimates showed that the closure of in-person classes would cost the economy P1.93 trillion, or more than 10 percent of gross domestic product, for one year.
Education Secretary Leonor Briones, herself an economist, said the DepEd’s plan to pilot test in-person classes was justifiable since there was a “relatively smaller” proportion of cases and deaths for children aged 5 to 19. She cited a study conducted by the United Nations Children’s Fund, whose results were released in October, showing that 91 percent of COVID-19 cases among children resulted from household exposure.
Covering up failure
“Children spend most of their time at home and we know the different conditions of the homes of our learners. That is a very important consideration,” Briones said at a public briefing.
But she also noted that there had been a higher incidence of asymptomatic cases among children, citing a study published in the Harvard Gazette that was released on Aug. 20.
However, the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) warned that the DepEd should couple these studies with a comprehensive plan to build more classrooms and install sanitation facilities as well as supply free masks and other necessary materials.
“Face-to-face learning may grant relatively more accessibility and effectiveness of teaching and learning to students, but the government … [is] covering up their failure to respond to the grievances of education stakeholders,” said Jandeil Roperos, NUSP national president.
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