Prime Minister Scott Morrison has fought to keep schools and universities open amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but they’re increasingly closing themselves down doors as students test positive to the virus.
St Columba Anglican School in Port Macquarie, on the Mid North Coast of NSW, is that latest to temporarily close, after a ‘member of the school community’ tested positive to coronavirus on Thursday.
‘In the interest of student and staff safety, the school will be closed on Friday 20 March. All families should have received an email with this information,’ a school update said.
‘We will keep our parents and community informed with updates as to when the campus will re-open.’
St Columba Anglican School in Port Macquarie, on the Mid North Coast of NSW, said they would shut on Friday after a member of the school’s community tested positive to coronavirus
UNSW announced they would cease in-person classes from Friday (pictured)
The announcement came as the University of New South Wales (UNSW) announced it would cancel in-person classes from Friday.
On Tuesday, UNSW said a student had contracted the deadly illness.
‘The student attended a 3-hour EDST6922 class from 5-8pm on Monday 9 March at Matthews 308 on our Kensington campus,’ the university said in a statement.
‘They exhibited mild symptoms while on campus, and did not attend the campus after the Monday lecture.’
University of Technology Sydney shut for one-week on Tuesday, while the University of Sydney said they would also cease face-to-face teaching on campus on Monday.
Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said the health committee advising governments strongly believed keeping schools open was the best thing to protect the community.
‘It will be hard for schools, but it would be much, much, much harder for society if the schools were closed,’ he said.
It comes as the cases of COVID-19 in Australia surge past 700, with six deaths.
‘What you do, you’ve got to keep doing for the next six months,’ the prime minister told Sky News when addressing school closures.
Students across Australia are being encouraged to carry on going to school (pictured, a school in Cobargo in January)
Why the medical experts say schools MUST stay open
Medical experts have advised the Australian government that for the good of the country, schools must stay open.
– If schools were to close, it would force essential health staff to stay home
– This would lead to 30 per cent drop in healthcare workers
– Children who have caught coronavirus have not done so in schools
– Kids are far more likely to contract it at home or elsewhere
– This means children are safer in school
– Even if kids do get it, they have mild or no symptoms
– It would have dire consequences for the already embattled economy, leaving thousands of workers forced to care for kids
‘Shut them down, they won’t open again. And that means your children will miss what is effectively a whole year of their education.
‘Now if there’s not a good health reason to do that and risk the child’s education or cause them rather significant economic cost…you should keep the schools open.
‘And that’s why I’ve formed such a strong view on this.’
He insisted social distancing and proper hand sanitation was enough to keep children and families safe.
Several other affected countries, including America and areas of the UK, have shut down schools and universities.
Epping Boy’s High School was the first in Australia to shut after a Year 11 student contracted COVID-19 when the local outbreak first began.
The school, in Sydney’s north-west, was shut for one-day on March 6.
Officials confirmed the teenage boy’s mother works alongside a doctor at Ryde Hospital who was struck down by the illness.
Willoughby Girls High School, less than 20 minutes drive from Epping was closed on March 9 and 10 after a student tested positive to the virus.
In the Blue Mountains, Katoomba High School was also forced to briefly open close their classrooms before opening on Monday.
‘As you are aware, a member of the Katoomba High School community was diagnosed with COVID-19,’ a Department of Education statement read.
‘We thank the school community for their support while we worked with NSW Health to ensure the school is ready for staff and students to return in a safe and healthy environment.’
Toorak Primary School in Melbourne’s inner southeast was closed for at least 24 hours on Tuesday after a teacher was confirmed as being infected.
Some private schools in Victoria – including Ballarat Grammar, Carey Baptist Grammar School, Loreto Mandeville Hall, St Kevin’s and Yeshiva-Beth Rivkah College – have temporarily shut their gates.
University graduations across the country have been cancelled as the government bans indoor events with more than 100 people (stock image)
The government has banned non-essential indoor gatherings with more than 100 people.
It does not affect public transport, airports, medical facilities, supermarkets and shopping centres, parliaments, courts or jails.
Office buildings, factories, construction or mining sites, schools, universities, childcare facilities and hotels are also exempt.
But people should practice social distancing in all these areas, keeping a space of 1.5 metres between themselves and others.
‘Every citizen now has to think about every interaction they have with another person during the day,’ Prof Murphy said.
‘No more hand-shaking. No more hugging except in your family … No more scant attention to hand hygiene.’
Strict rules around visitors at aged care facilities are also now in place, barring anyone who has recently travelled, sick people, children except in exceptional circumstances, and from May 1 anyone who hasn’t had a flu vaccination.
Mr Morrison spoke with private education sector representatives on Wednesday, after meeting with premiers and chief ministers who run the public systems on Tuesday night.
The National Catholic Education Commission says it will stick to the government’s advice.
‘I appreciate that, despite this advice some parents have chosen to keep their children at home, or have special circumstances to consider,’ executive director Jacinta Collins said.
‘While this is an uncertain period for our communities, it is important that we remain calm and alert as we monitor this health risk, and for our families and staff to be well informed about the health advice and protocols to reduce this risk.’
Sydney’s Epping Boys High School was briefly closed after a 16-year-old student tested positive to COVID-19
The Independent Education Union has been inundated with calls from anxious teachers worried about how to implement social distancing and questioning leave entitlements and hygiene practices.
In Victoria, where some schools have already closed, the state government has launched a new Learning From Home website with resources in case schools get shut down.
The website will be continuously updated and made available to Independent and Catholic schools.
The state’s Education Minister James Merlino wrote to teachers and parents on Thursday to announce extended and additional cleaning in all schools through to the end of term, focusing on ‘high touch points’.
‘This will involve increased disinfectant and detailed cleaning of the common touch points, including washbasins, all entry and exit points and shared surfaces including chairs and desks,’ he said.
UTS announced they would close for one-week from Tuesday due to COVID-19
CORONAVIRUS CASES IN AUSTRALIA: 710
New South Wales: 307
Western Australia: 52
South Australia: 42
Australian Capital Territory: 4
Northern Territory: 1
TOTAL CASES: 710
Kevin Bates of the Queensland Teachers Union acknowledged teachers were anxious, but backed the government call to keep schools open for now.
‘What we have to do here is work together as a community,’ he told Nine on Thursday.
‘We’re seeing all sorts of concerns being raised, they need to be dealt with they can’t just be ignored.
‘But at the end of the day, the best medical advice available needs to be followed, whether that’s to keep schools open or to close them.’
WA Secondary School Executives Association president Armando Giglia told AAP the absentee rate at high schools was currently around 15-20 per cent, double the usual rate.
The State School Teachers’ Union of WA is calling for action to protect the health of staff and students, including a significant increase in cleaning hours, and swift re-stocking of soap and hand sanitiser.
The unions said it expected any teacher in a high-risk group, either due to age or underlying health conditions, would be allowed to take leave or work from home.