CARACAS – Venezuela reopened public schools and universities with more than 11 million students on Monday after a long shutdown amid the coronavirus pandemic, although some schools remained closed for repairs or staff shortages.
The government of President Nicolas Maduro has postponed the restart of face-to-face classes several times amid new highs in infections and vaccination delays.
Youth Minister Mervin Maldonado said 8.7 million children across the country would return to classrooms and about 3.1 million students would return to universities.
Children in uniforms with blue trousers and red shirts and with masks were placed in schools in the capital Caracas from 7 a.m., while teachers were distributing antibacterial gel.
One mother, Jenny Bejarano, said she was “a little nervous” about possible coronavirus infections when she dropped her son Fabian off at the Venezuela Experimental Education Unit school in central Caracas.
“Our health system, it is not a secret from anyone, is missing,” said Bejarano, a cardiorespiratory worker in a private clinic. She said there was a deep shortage of medicines and supplies.
But 8-year-old Fabian was excited to see his third grade classmates, said Bejarano, 47.
About 40% of the school’s 1,700 enrolled students returned to class on Monday, said community representative Pedro Zambrano.
“Returning to class is important for us, but we have doubts,” said Maria Clemente, an official with the Venezuelan Teachers’ Association, which has around 325,000 members.
Some teachers will stay absent for fear of illness or low salaries, she said, adding that the maximum monthly salary for their members is 118 bolivars, which is $ 27.
Downstairs at the oldest school in Caracas, the Andres Bello Educational Complex, director Wilmer Marcano ran a largely vacant building. Repairs will delay the reboot by two weeks, he said.
People aged 12 and over in Venezuela are now entitled to their first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
The government says 56 percent of the population of 28.7 million people have been vaccinated, although the Pan American Health Organization says only 21.6 percent are fully protected.