'No time to waste': Health expert blasts government for keeping schools open

·7-min read

A award-winning health expert has urged Australian officials to “stop dicking around” and close schools amid the ever-growing coronavirus crisis.

During an interview with ABC’s News Breakfast, the host of the network’s Health Report Dr Norman Swan disagreed with the government’s decision to keep classrooms open.

“I have a personal view on this - there is no time to waste.

“And my feeling is that to be blunt, we're dicking around and we've just got to shut stuff around now.”

Dr Swan’s comments come just hours before nine Melbourne private schools decided to close their campuses on Monday afternoon.

Which schools have closed because of coronavirus

Private schools across Victoria such as Yeshiva-Beth Rivkah College, Carey Baptist Grammar School, Loreto Mandeville Hall and Ballarat Grammar are closing their doors.

Other Melbourne schools that have announced closures include; Caulfield Grammar School, St Leonard’s College in Brighton east, Melbourne Girls Grammar School, Lauriston Girls’ School, as well as its Junior and Senior Schools, and Lowther Hall Anglican Grammar School, according to Nine News.

Medical staff explain protection knowledge for coronavirus and COVID-19 disease to students in China. Source: AAP
Medical staff explain protection knowledge for coronavirus and COVID-19 disease to students in China. Source: AAP

In a letter to parents, the publication reported Caulfield Grammar School announced it will suspend classes from Friday and resume on April 20.

The students at St Leonard's and Melbourne Girls Grammar will begin online classes tomorrow.

“To ensure the continued health and wellbeing of our College community and to facilitate the ongoing educational development of our students, we will be transitioning to our online learning model effective tomorrow at 10.00am,” St Leonard’s staff wrote on Facebook on Monday.

“This will mean that students will not attend the College and they will commence an online approach that will start from 10.00am tomorrow and operate according to the normal timetable. Our usual start time of 8.30am will apply from Wednesday onwards.”

One woman responded, applauding the school’s decision.

“Proud of the leadership and prompt decision making taken by the school. Well done!” she said.

The Association of Independent Schools of NSW said some of its schools will start teaching students remotely.

There are about 500 private schools across the state, with some to teach students online from this week while others will set tasks and assignments via email, chief executive Dr Geoff Newcombe said in a statement on Monday.

St Christopher's Catholic Primary School in Panania in Sydney's southwest closed on Monday after a person who attended an event hosted by the school tested positive the disease.

Sydney Catholic Schools executive director Tony Farley said the professional development event was held on March 12 and the infected person was not a teacher at the Panania primary school or any other Sydney Catholic school.

The school will undergo a thorough "hygiene sweep" on Monday and will reopen on Tuesday.

Last week in NSW, two year 10 students from St Patrick's Marist College in Dundas and a year 7 pupil from Willoughby Girls High School were confirmed to have coronavirus.

The fathers of the two St Patrick's students are both Defence staff and had previously tested positive for the infection.

NSW authorities are now investigating a coronavirus cluster centred around Ryde Hospital, the Australian Defence Force and Dorothy Henderson Lodge.

St Patrick's Marist College and Willoughby Girls High School was closed on Tuesday as a precautionary measure.

In South Australia, Sacred Heart College, south of Adelaide’s CBD, is due to reopen on Tuesday after a year 11 student tested positive last week.

The Willoughby Girls High School is pictured in Sydney on March 9. Willoughby Girls High School was closed after a 12-year-old year 7 pupil was confirmed as having coronavirus.
The Willoughby Girls High School is pictured in Sydney on March 9. Willoughby Girls High School was closed after a 12-year-old year 7 pupil was confirmed as having coronavirus.

Scotch College's campuses at Mitcham and Torrens Park will be closed for deep cleaning on Tuesday following the positive test result. They will likely reopen on Wednesday morning.

Calls for all schools to close

The government’s decision to keep classrooms open has drawn some harsh criticism.

Dr Swan told ABC’s News Breakfast there is a loss of control “each day that goes by.”

“They cancelled the Grand Prix at the last minute and we have to shut down schools. A lot of parents are worried,” he said.

“If you look at Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong, to a lesser extent China, I don't think China, but they succeeded in controlling the epidemic without closing schools. The data is corrupted by the fact that schools were on holiday in many of those places for the Chinese new year, and therefore, it is really hard to ascertain whether they really benefited from leaving the schools open.”

NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay said schools would be closed at some point for a period of time due to the virus.

She said she has written to the NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklianadvising her it would be inappropriate for state parliament to sit next week.

Former Member of Parliament Emma Husar took to Twitter to make her thoughts known.

“In the absence of any meaningful leadership my kids are home from school.

“You are the leaders in your own houses, lives and families. Make your decisions embrace your power.”

When could schools shut?

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard on Monday said rolling school closures was "likely to be the new norm”, but PM Scott Morrison said on Sunday schools would remain open for the time being.

However, he warned all options are on the table to help tackle the spread of the coronavirus, which may include school closures in the future and even a complete lockdown of the country similar to Italy, France and Spain.

"Everything is up for consideration," Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy told ABC television's Insiders Program on Sunday.

A child raises his hand in a classroom.
Some schools may be forced to close due to coronavirus. Source: Getty Images (file pic)

Schools from Monday are adopting social distancing measures, including cancelling assemblies, excursions and travel, as well as some events and conferences in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton argued the decision not to close schools was based on how the disease presented in children, and to avoid the risk of health and emergency workers being pulled out of service to look after their children.

"For children under nine years of age, it is an extremely mild disease, and there are virtually no reports of deaths for those below 20, it's a tiny percentage," Mr Sutton said.

"My kids are in primary school and in child care and I'm very happy for them to be there."

Mr Hazzard has issued an order under the Public Health Act 2010 to force the immediate cancellation of public events with more than 500 people.

Individuals who fail to comply could face up to six months in prison, a fine of up to $11,000, or both, he said on Monday.

All passengers arriving from overseas must now self-isolate for 14 days. Pictured is man returning to Sydney earlier this year. Source: Getty
All passengers arriving from overseas must now self-isolate for 14 days. Pictured is man returning to Sydney earlier this year. Source: Getty

How schools are preparing for closures?

With more than 340 coronavirus cases confirmed nationally, it has been reported that some schools are providing parents with information about how to use online resources so that their children don’t miss any lessons in the event of a closure.

The NSW Department of Education listed a series of helpful tips for parents about the best way to home school.

Teachers are asked to check in on parents by phone or email and set up learning tools online using Google or Microsoft applications.

School closures may make things worse, experts say

Minister of Education Dan Tehan told the ABC on Monday that “the advice from medical experts is that not having students at school could actually lead to a greater risk of the virus spreading.”

“Longer closures may result in more students congregating outside of school [eg other students' homes, shopping malls], which will increase risk to older adults or those with ," the Centres for Disease Control warns.

with AAP

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