As the coronavirus crisis continues in Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said schools will not be shutting down at this stage.
Speaking to media in a press conference on Wednesday morning, the PM said closing schools is not practical nor what official “health advice” suggests.
However, he did advise parents to be proactive in identifying whether their child is healthy enough to attend classes.
“Right now, schools should remain open. That is the clear and crystal health violence from the AHPPC (Australian Health Protection Principal Committee), and that is the clear and unified position of all the states and territories, Premiers, Chief Ministers and myself,” he told reporters.
Morrison said Australia was following Singapore’s example, as the country has been one of the more successful nations in containing the virus, while keeping educational institutions up and running.
″Please know this - whatever we do we have to do for at least six months. That means the disruption that would occur from the closure of schools around this country, make no mistake, would be severe,” he explained, citing the potential for thousands of job losses and a 30% impact on health workers.
COVID-19 Affects Younger People Differently
Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said the manifestation of the virus is different in younger people, saying only 2.4% of cases reported in China’s Hubei Province were in people under age 19.
“Children have very, very few instances of clinical disease, and if they do, of even more severe disease,” he said. “This is quite different to influenza and other respiratory diseases which have quite severe disease sometimes in children. We know that even in influenza, school closures are a controversial issue.”
Murphy said there may be school closures in a community where a big outbreak occurs, but overall the view is to keep schools opens.
Minimising Classroom Transmission
In terms of minimising transmission in the classroom, he said good hand hygiene and avoiding large assemblies at school is key.
“Children should be washing their hands regularly, particularly when they’re eating and particularly when they’re touching common areas. So it will be hard for schools, but it would be much, much, much harder for society if the schools were closed.
“If they were at home, we know that they probably wouldn’t stay at home, they would probably congregate anyway and if transmission were occurring, it would happen. Or they may be looked after by vulnerable elderly relatives who are the people that we’re worried about.”
Don’t Send Your Sick Child To School
The PM said the onus is on parents to identify whether their kids are sick, and if so, do not send them to school.
“As parents, you are in the best position to know if your children are unwell. Don’t leave it to the teacher to work that out when they arrive, or the school administrator or whoever is on drop-off, make sure, if your child is unwell, that you are taking action to keep your child out of school. That is your responsibility,” he said.
It was also advised that sick teachers should also not come to work.
The government’s advice on Wednesday came after many teachers across the country expressed concern about how to ensure social distancing measures and adequate hygiene within classrooms and the playground.
“Schools have been told to implement a range of social distancing measures which include keeping a distance of 1.5m between persons and minimising physical contact where possible,” NSW Teachers Federation President Angelo Gavrielatos said in a statement.
“However, the design of many of our schools and the size of our classrooms make this impossible.
“The overcrowding of some schools also makes this impossible beyond the classroom. This is further amplified on wet days when children and their teachers have to remain in-doors.”
Murphy’s response on Wednesday was: “We know also that it’s not really possible for children in a classroom to keep 1.5m apart from each other, and we know that we’ve got to be practical about that.
“But schools should practice very good hand hygiene, too. Very hard to do in a school, but we can trust our teachers to do it.”
At least 560 people in Australia have tested positive for COVID-19, while six people have died.
The virus has killed more than 8,200 people worldwide with infections reaching 200,000 mark.