SKOPJE, Oct. 1 (Xinhua) -- The new school year started on Thursday across North Macedonia under strict health measures. Over 270,000 primary and high school students started the 2020-2021 school year.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only students up to third grade, or around 19,000 students, returned to school for in-person learning, while the others will follow online classes via the national distance learning platform.
According to local media reports, around 600 out of the country's 864 elementary and secondary schools were allowed to open their doors to students for in-person learning.
On this occasion, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and Education Minister Mila Carovska visited an elementary school in the capital Skopje.
In a statement, Zaev emphasized the importance of upholding the health measures to protect the children and the teachers.
"If we all follow the measures, it will be much easier to overcome all the challenges of this school year," Zaev told reporters.
Carovska echoed Zaev's message, stressing that the whole process needs support from everyone. "This year will be different, and we need to show flexibility. We are here not because we want to, but because we have to," Carovska told reporters.
On Thursday, via a Facebook video message, Health Minister Venko Filipce urged teachers, parents and students to show responsibility during this new school year.
Filipce called for the public's understanding and support for all education-related health measures, adding that "all decisions aim to protect public health and ensure a good and safe education process."
On Thursday, the country's Health Ministry reported 162 new coronavirus cases, bringing the total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in North Macedonia to 18,138, with 15,068 recoveries and 743 fatalities.
As the world is in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries across the globe -- including France, Germany, Britain, China, Russia and the U.S. -- are racing to find a vaccine.
According to the website of the World Health Organization (WHO), as of Sept. 30, there were 192 COVID-19 candidate vaccines being developed worldwide, and 41 of them were in clinical trials.
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