Schoolchildren from five of Argentina's 24 regional districts (23 provinces, plus the federal capital) returned to classrooms on Wednesday for the first time in almost a year, as the country began a gradual restart of face-to-face classes.
"Everything was fine and normal," with more than 2,000 state and private-run establishments reopening doors to students in Buenos Aires City, City Hall spokesman Patricio Navarra told the AFP news agency.
Buenos Aires City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta hailed the move, saying it was "a day of great pride and joy" that was "so necessary for the children."
"I am very happy and extremely grateful to the entire educational family, the directors, the teachers, the children and the family members who have had patience throughout the past year to accompany them with virtuality," he added.
The return of face-to-face classes with teachers will be gradual in each district across the country. Students and teachers will meet in rotating and limited schedules, with sanitary health 'bubbles' used to minimise the risk of contagion between year-groups and classes. Virtual classes, held via videconference software, will be used by most institutions to support in-person tuition, or to replace classes when a member of a bubble tests positive for Covid-19.
"It is a different school from the pre-pandemic [era]. We have to strike a balance between the right to education and face-to-face classes, and looking after our health," said Education Minister Nicolás Trotta.
In Argentina there are just over 10 million students at kindergarten, primary and secondary levels, not counting those in higher education or studying at university.
To date, more than two million confirmed cases have been recorded in Argentina. Fatalities last week surpasses 50,000.
If infection rates start to jump, the re-opening will be halted, Trotta warned Monday.
Most parents were delighted to see their children return to schools, which in most provinces have been shuttered since last March, though understandably there was a little trepidation.
"The experience today was one of great uncertainty, and fear. But the school has very spacious classrooms, with a lot of ventilation," Carlos Nehme, 52, the father of sx-year-old Olivia told AFP as he waited outside a school in Colegiales.
"Everyone is wearing a mask all the time. There were only 10 children – half of the group. The kids could not touch each other," he added.
Some teachers' unions, however, have expressed unease at the return of classes, with at least one last week announcing it would hold a three-day strike in protest at the decision to reopen.
Argentina's government says teachers are a priority group for Covid-19 vaccines, which as yet have been given only to the elderly and frontline healthcare workers.
The Alberto Fernández administration, which has come under sharp pressure from the opposition to reopen schools, wants all provinces to be holding face-to-face classes by March 8.
Schools were shuttered last March 15, just a week after the start of the school year, as the coronavirus pandemic hit Argentina.