'Replace fear with facts': Doctor slams Queensland over school move

The former Deputy Chief Health Officer has criticised the Queensland government for delaying the reopening of schools due to rising cases of Covid-19.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said it's too risky for children, who are mostly unvaccinated, to return to school on January 24 which is when the outbreak is likely to be peaking and has delayed a return to classrooms until February 7. Queensland recorded 18,000 new coronavirus cases on Sunday.

But Dr Nick Coatsworth told Nine’s Today Show no state should delay returning kids to school.

Dr Nick Coatsworth talks to Sarah Abo on the Today Show.
Dr Nick Coatsworth told the Today Show that fear should be "replaced with facts". Source: Channel 9

“We have got to leave this fear behind and replace it with facts,” he told the program.

“Every government and medical expert in this country needs to follow the lead of the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children's Fund which both state that ‘schools should be the last to close and the first to open’.

“We are not in a situation in Australia that requires a delay to school opening.”

The Today Show's Sarah Abo raised the point that parents and caregivers are worried about children catching the virus at school and passing it on to vulnerable members of the family.

"Well Sarah, that's absolutely a concern, but it needn't be," Dr Coatsworth responded.

He referred to a study released by the US Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention which found of 1,228,664 fully vaccinated people between December 2020–October 2021 only 0.0033 per cent died and 0.015 per cent had severe illness associated with Covid-19.

Dr Coatsworth also cited the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) which has called for schools to reopen.

“Children should return to in-person learning as soon as possible,” UNICEF said.

Coronavirus is also an illness which adults severely and children mildly, Dr Coatsworth added.

Audrey Merriman (left), 9, and her sister Grace, 8, are seen learning from home on the first day of Term 2 in Brisbane.
Two sisters undergo homeschooling in Brisbane. Source: AAP

'We have managed Covid-19 with kids in schools'

The former Deputy Chief Health Officer’s calls to reopen schools were supported by infectious diseases expert Professor Robert Booy from the University of Sydney.

As of Monday, children aged between 5-11 can now receive Covid-19 vaccines in Queensland.

However, there have been concerns across Australia about vaccine supply for children.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk speaks to the media following a disaster management committee meeting in Brisbane.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk made the announcement schools were being delayed in returning to on-campus learning on Sunday. Source: AAP

Professor Booy told Sunrise parents should remain calm.

“We have managed Covid-19 with kids in schools before we had vaccines for kids,” he told the program.

“And remember that Delta was more severe than Omicron, what we're dealing with right now is much milder in people and in children in particular.”

Professor Booy added even one dosage should provide kids with at least 80 per cent protection against the virus which is “enough”.

Dr Coatsworth said it was unlikely his children would be able to get a jab before returning to school but he was not worried.

Both Victoria and NSW said there are no plans in either state to postpone the return to school.

"There will be challenges as we move through the return-to-school program but ultimately we can't let perfection be the enemy of good. We need kids back in class,” NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet told reporters on Sunday.

with AAP

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