Millions of students are back to class in Venezuela after a long closure due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Children dressed in uniforms of blue pants and red shirts and wearing masks filed into schools in the capital Caracas starting at 7am (11:00GMT) on Monday, as teachers dispensed hand-sanitiser.
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President Nicolas Maduro’s government had delayed the restart of in-person classes several times, amid new peaks in infections and vaccination delays.
“With joy, enthusiasm and responsibility our children and young people return to face-to-face classes, always respecting biosecurity measures,” Maduro said Monday on Twitter. “Let’s preserve health to build the new normal.”
Youth Minister Mervin Maldonado said 8.7 million children would return to classrooms across the country and some 3.1 million students would resume attending universities.
One mother, Jenny Bejarano, told the Reuters news agency she felt “a bit nervous” about potential coronavirus infections as she dropped off her son Fabian at the Venezuela Experimental Education Unit school in central Caracas.
“Our health system, it’s not a secret from anyone, is lacking,” said Bejarano, a cardiorespiratory staffer at a private clinic.
Supplies of medications and other necessities are scarce, she said, as Venezuela grapples with inflation and shortages amid a longstanding economic crisis compounded by international sanctions.
Eight-year-old Fabian was excited to see his third-grade classmates, said Bejarano, 47.
About 40 percent of his school’s 1,700 registered students returned to classes on Monday, said community representative Pedro Zambrano.
“For us, the return to classes is important, but we have doubts,” said Maria Clemente, an official at the Venezuelan Federation of Teachers, which has some 325,000 members.
Some teachers will remain absent for fear of getting sick or because of low salaries, she said, adding that the maximum monthly salary for her members is 118 bolivares, equivalent to about $27 US.
Since the pandemic began, Venezuela has recorded more than 400,000 coronavirus cases and more than 4,800 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University in the US.
Less than 22 percent of Venezuelans are fully vaccinated, Johns Hopkins reported, although the government in Caracas has said 56 percent of the population of 28.7 million has been vaccinated.
Venezuelans age 12 and up are now eligible for their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.