Australia

#LockDownAustralia: Parents are keeping children home despite Australian schools remaining open

A file photo of Brisbane school students. Source: AAP

Concerns have been raised over the government's decision to keep schools across the country open despite banning gatherings of more than 500 people.

Parents, students and teachers are calling for a complete lockdown of schools and universities, which are exempt from the government’s ban on gatherings of more than 500 people.

The government continues to insist it is not necessary to close schools to halt the spread of the coronavirus, but many parents have decided to keep their children home. 

Schools are also implementing "social-distancing" measures such as cancelling assemblies to limit interaction. 

On Twitter, the hashtag #LockdownAustralia was trending on Monday morning as people called for drastic action after close to 300 people tested positive for COVID-19 in Australia.

Twitter users questioned the safety of attending school as the response to the pandemic ramps up, pointing to the fact many have significantly more than 500 pupils. 

“Getting ready to go to work as a teacher where I am going to be in contact with over 1,000 people today,” one teacher wrote on Monday morning. “The government is currently putting mine and every other student and teachers lives at risk. As well as our families.”

Queensland Teachers Union president Kevin Bates said school absences have spiked since the outbreak worsened.

"In the early days, some schools on the south side of Brisbane had 500 to 600 students staying home per day. That's a matter for parents to decide," Mr Bates told ABC radio on Monday. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the mass closure of schools would make the “coronavirus situation worse, not better”.

"When you take children out of schools and put them back in the broader community, the ability for them to potentially engage with others increases the risk," he said on Sunday.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan echoed Mr Morrison’s position earlier on Monday, adding that keeping children home would hinder the ability for their guardians to go to work and “provide the services we need at this time”. 

As Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced a state of emergency for four weeks, the state’s chief medical officer Brett Sutton said on Monday morning that they were discussing the evidence for and against school closures.

“There is nothing magic about 500 people,” he said.

“For settings that have fewer than 500 people, no, there are no cancellations that are imposed … But people should do the right thing and try to make a greater space between them and exclude themselves if they are unwell.”

Willoughby girls high school
Willoughby Girls High School closed earlier this month after a Year 7 student tested positive for coronavirus.
SBS News

In Europe, schools and universities are closed in Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Turkey and Ukraine.

Pupils will also stay at home next week in Belgium, Croatia, France, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland, and in most German regions.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on Sunday announced the closure of public schools in America's biggest city, bowing to pressure after strongly resisting the move aimed at curbing the coronavirus pandemic.

"I regret to announce that as of tomorrow our public schools will be closed," de Blasio told a news conference, saying they would stay shuttered until April 20, and potentially for the remainder of the school year.

In Australia’s hardest-hit state, New South Wales, where four of Australia’s five coronavirus deaths have been located and at least 134 people have tested positive for COVID-19, the Department of Education announced on Sunday that schools would be introducing social distancing measures.

These include cancelling school assemblies, large gatherings and events, NSW Department of Education Secretary Mark Scott said in a statement.

“From Monday onwards, I expect school assemblies and substantial gatherings to be cancelled, along with all excursions,” he said. 

“The community expects schools to be as safe as possible. We are implementing these measures to provide peace of mind for students, parents and staff.”

A number of universities have also moved to shut down or enact restriction measures after a number of students tested positive for the virus.

The University of Queensland announced on Sunday evening that it would be pausing all teaching, including lectures and tutorials, for one week after a fourth student contracted the virus.

Vice-Chancellor Professor Peter Høj AC described the decision as a “big call” but said the university was working to ensure most coursework would be available online by 23 March.

The University of Sydney and the University of NSW both announced a student had tested positive for the virus on Sunday, but said classes would continue as usual. 

Addressing the media early on Monday morning, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said it was time to prepare for the “next phase” of the pandemic and brace for what is coming.

Australians are taking precautions such as wearing masks and tapping elbows instead of shaking hands
Australians are taking precautions such as wearing masks and tapping elbows instead of shaking hands.
AAP

“We can't pretend that these are normal circumstances because they're not. We can't pretend that it is business-as-usual because it's not,” she said on Monday. 

She also urged people who have been sick or have recently travelled overseas to the directive to self-isolate seriously, describing the situation as “life and death”. 

“Every family is going to be affected in one way or another, and this is about saving lives.”

More than 162,000 cases have so far been confirmed across the world. Of these, approximately 75,000 have recovered and more than 6,000 have died.

Coronavirus symptoms can range from mild illness to pneumonia, according to the Federal Government's website, and can include a fever, coughing, sore throat, fatigue and shortness of breath.

People who believe they may have contracted the virus are advised to call their doctor before visiting or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.

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