by Yosley Carrero
HAVANA, Nov. 8 (Xinhua) -- Mercedes de la Caridad Jimenez, a 14-year-old adolescent living in Havana's El Vedado district, returned to "Guerrilleros de America" secondary school on Monday as the island nation bounces back to normal.
Nationwide, some 612,000 sixth graders, secondary school pupils and high schoolers came back to classrooms for in-person learning, abiding by physical distancing guidelines and hygiene measures.
Wearing a face mask, she told Xinhua that she was eager to catch up with her classmates and teachers again after a long hiatus in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
Jimenez voiced confidence in school's measures to reduce the likelihood of exposure to the current viral variants circulating on the island.
"I had been home-schooling for several months, but the epidemiological situation has improved. I strongly believe that nothing can replace face-to-face contact between teachers and students," she said.
On Monday, the Caribbean nation, home to about 11 million inhabitants, registered 471 new COVID-19 cases and three more related deaths, taking the national counts to 956,452 and 8,265 respectively, according to the Cuban Ministry of Public Health.
The adolescent's mother Doralis Reina Blanco did not want to miss out the opportunity to attend the welcoming ceremony for students at school.
"Our kids have been sheltering at home for so long. They want to study hard and pave their own way to success, but the pandemic has been a huge obstacle on the road. This is a great day," said the 51-year-old mother.
So far, more than 80 percent of Cuban children aged 2-18 have been fully inoculated against COVID-19 as part of the national immunization campaign with domestic vaccines.
Edgar Avila, a 54-year-old father, said that the reopening of schools would help students get rid of stress and tensions triggered by the pandemic.
"They needed to come back to classrooms not only to learn about new subjects, but to continue to enhance interpersonal relations with their classmates," he said.
At schools, children and staff are subject to regular temperature checks as wearing face masks remains compulsory in keeping with coronavirus protocols in place on the island.
In addition, students and teachers are provided with disinfecting solutions to keep sanitized while desks have been spaced 1.5 meters apart.
Grizel Maria Alvarez, the principal of the school, told Xinhua that protecting the health of students is the paramount priority of education workers in Cuba.
"All steps have been taken to protect our kids," she said. "We must strictly follow the coronavirus guidance to keep the risk of getting infected with the virus at minimum."
Meanwhile, Cuban primary school children aged 6-10 are expected to return to the classrooms on Nov. 15. Enditem