PM: Why our schools must stay open

PARENTS are being assured their children are safe from the coronavirus, as schools are kept open in the face of the disease.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy outlined in clear and stark terms why this decision has been made, saying that any shutdown would have to last six months minimum.

The reasons are three-fold, with health considerations first and foremost, but also the severe economic knock on effects and increasing pressure on the hospitals' ability to deal with the upcoming crisis.

Not only are children largely unaffected by the virus, but a total school shutdown would see tens of thousands of people lose their jobs and a 30 per cent reduction in available health care workers, which would lead to more people dying, Mr Morrison warned.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said his own children are staying in school.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said his own children are staying in school.

Keeping schools open has also been done successfully in Singapore, which has been one of the most effective countries in keeping the virus at bay.

Mr Morrison said the advice to keep schools open was supported by the Premiers and chief health officers in all states.

"The virus operates very differently among younger people. It has a different manifestation among younger people and that presents a very different health challenge to the broader population," he said.

"We all love our kids and there is nothing we wouldn't do for them.

"I am telling you that, as a father, I'm happy for my kids to go to school. There is only one reason your kids shouldn't be going to school and that is if they are unwell."

He confirmed his own children were continuing to attend school during the outbreak.

Prof Murphy said that unlike influenza, this coronavirus did not impact children in a significant way.

"In China, only 2.4 per cent of the cases reported in Hubei Province were in people under 19. Children have very, very few instances of clinical disease, and if they do, of even more severe disease," he said.

"It's interesting in China that again, most of the children infected were reported as having picked up the virus from adults in their household."

He said there were simple steps that could be taken within schools to limit transmission, such as cancelling school assemblies.

"We know also that it's not really possible for children in a classroom to keep 1.5m apart from each other, and we know that we've got to be practical about that," Prof Murphy said.

"But schools should practice very good hand hygiene, too. Very hard to do in a school, but we can trust our teachers to do it. Children should be washing their hands regularly, particularly when they're eating and particularly when they're touching common areas."

Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy.
Australia’s Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy.

Mr Morrison also said that the disruption to society caused by the closure of schools would be severe.

"What do I mean by severe? Tens of thousands of jobs could be lost, if not more. The impact on the availability of health workers a 30 per cent impact on the availability of health workers is our advice. That will put peoples' lives at risk," the Prime Minister said.

"Let's keep our heads as parents when it comes to this. Let's do the right thing by the country and by each other and follow the proper advice. There is a national public interest here in keeping schools open and our advice is that is not being done at the detriment at the health of any child."

Prof Murphy said if schools did close, it would leave children in the care of grandparents, who were vulnerable to the disease, while children would likely still congregate with each other away from home even if schools were closed.

Mr Morrison said he could not guarantee that schools would remain open for the next six months, but that the health advice for now was clear that they should remain open.

The National Cabinet noted that boarding schools are "at high risk of transmission" and encouraged boarding schools and parents to "consider the risks versus the benefits of a student remaining in boarding school".

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