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Chile's teachers vow to defend health of workers and students in defiance of government plans to reopen schools

CHILEAN teaching unions have vowed to protect the health of students, teachers and all other workers in the country’s education system in defiance of government plans to reopen schools from next week.

The College Professors of Chile (CPC) union said that measures announced by right-wing President Sebastien Pinera were irresponsible and risked the health of 3.6 million students, 200,000 teachers, 200,000 assistants and the administrative workers in schools, academies and colleges.

Mr Pinera said on Sunday that schools would reopen and some public-sector workers would start a gradual return to work as he outlined plans for the resumption of some social and economic activities.

But CPC president Mario Aguilar rejected calls to resume the school year in May. “We find it outrageous that just when the pandemic is at its peak, [there is] a return to classes. It is a direct attack on the health of the people and the students,” he said.

“All school personnel and learners would interact in facilities and institutions … despite social-isolation recommendations to stop the virus spreading.”

Chile has had 10,088 confirmed cases of Covid-19, with 133 deaths and 4,338 recoveries.

Mr Aguila said that the administrative measures proposed by the government “would force one million people to break social isolation and be vulnerable to the pandemic.”

He said that the union would not risk the health of education workers, students and the wider community. “We will unite to defend and protect health,” he said. “If you don’t take care of us, we will take care of each other, students, parents, teachers, education assistants, school communities and citizens.”

Chile has the third-highest total of coronavirus cases in Latin America behind Brazil and Peru, with businesses closed and whole cities, including the capital Santiago’s 6m population on lockdown.

Mr Pinera is keen to get the county’s fragile economy running again. Emergency stimulus measures to combat the coronavirus pandemic will deepen the fiscal deficit to 8 per cent, the largest gap since at least 1990, the government said last week.

The package, worth $17 billion (£13.6bn) is worth more than 5 per cent of Chile’s GDP and includes government credit to protect small businesses.

Since October Chile has been rocked by huge anti-government protests, the largest demonstrations seen since the fall of the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship in 1990. Mr Pinera responded by mobilising the military onto the streets to quell dissent, with scores killed and thousands injured in clashes.

The CPC has been engaged in a bitter struggle with the government, taking 50 days of strike action last year over terms and conditions.

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