States and territories will make their own back-to-school COVID plans, Scott Morrison says

The prime minister said on Thursday that it is the government's highest priority to ensure children are back in classrooms as soon as possible.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra. Source: AAP

Plans for returning to face-to-face school learning will be announced by each state and territory leader in the coming days, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced following a meeting of National Cabinet.

It comes as some parents and teachers have expressed concerns about the return to classrooms, with just 21.6 per cent of Australian children aged five to 11 having received a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Meanwhile 82.1 per cent of children in the 12 to 15-year old age group have received a single dose of the vaccine, and 75.4 per cent are double vaccinated.

Mr Morrison said there is no requirement for children to be double-dosed in order for schools to open. 

"The government ... have no advice that says that schools should not be open if [children] haven't had the vaccination, it has not been set up as a condition," he said on Thursday. 

"To have two definitions in the timeframe [of school return] is not practical and not an impediment to schools opening." 

Mr Morrison said that where rapid antigen testing is required in school and early childhood learning centres, the Commonwealth will assist with funding on a 50-50 joint basis with the respective state and territory. 

The - at least four hours of contact with a COVID-positive household member - won't be extended to cover contact within schools grounds or buildings.

"If you are sick, you should not be coming to school," Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said.

But Professor Kelly acknowledged that while the illness in children was mild, there was a risk a student would become infected and bring the virus home.

"To keep them at school as much as possible, there are trade-offs today in terms of transmission," he said.

"We want kids back at school and want them back on day one."

The prime minister also denied claims that the federal government had been seizing COVID-19 rapid antigen tests from retailers.

He said any claims from suppliers that the government had been taking away stock from commercial outlets were "not true".

"You may be aware of some false claims regarding Commonwealth government requisitioning of rapid antigen tests. I want to stress that these are false claims," he told reporters on Thursday. 

Mr Morrison read out a statement from the Department of Health saying that these claims have been reported to the consumer watchdog.

The statement said that supplies of rapid antigen testing kits "are not being redirected to the Commonwealth and at no time has the department sought to place itself ahead of other commercial and retail entities". 

"If you're being told by suppliers that you cannot get those rapid antigen test because the Commonwealth government has redirected it, that is not true. Get them to tell you the truth," Mr Morrison said. 

He also dismissed the idea that 16-year-olds would be encouraged to obtain forklift licences in order to curb national labour shortages and supply chain issues caused by the surge in COVID-19 cases. 

"I took the industry proposal that had come from the consultation in the transport sector and the discussion of national cabinet today. We agreed to proceed no further with the issue of 16-year-old forklift drivers," Mr Morrison said.

"We had a good discussion about today and is not something that we believe, collectively, that is something we should be pursuing at this time."

With AAP.

4 min read
Published 20 January 2022 at 4:07pm
Source: SBS