Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly has reassured parents after a national cabinet meeting where return to school plans were at the top of the agenda.
On Thursday Professor Kelly described Covid is a ‘very mild illness’ in children to allay fears about classrooms reopening at the end of the month.
He referenced statistics that showed only 15 out of 17,000 cases of Delta in kids were admitted into intensive care.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said of the 17,000 cases of Delta Covid in NSW schoolchildren only 15 were admitted into intensive care
Prof Kelly said the recent data indicated Covid is ‘in this sense a very mild illness in children’
‘In this sense this is a very mild illness in children,’ he said.
‘It is mild with Delta, and we looked at whether there has been any change in the hospital and ICU admission rate and there hasn’t been.’
Murdoch Children’s Research Institute also found that children who contract Covid are likely to recover quickly.
A recent study found that there is ‘little evidence’ Covid symptoms in children last longer than 12 weeks with the most symptoms easing within four weeks of infection.
While the return to schools was a key item on the national cabinet agenda, surveillance testing for students and teachers will be handled on a state-by-state basis, should they choose to do so.
States and territories announced they have made their own plans on the best way to safely return to school despite weeks of leaders discussing a co-ordinated approach.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Commonwealth government will support states and territories that want to implement surveillance testing for schools on a 50-50 cost sharing basis.
But Mr Morrison stressed the health advice didn’t recommend such a regime.
‘While it is not the medical advice for (surveillance testing) to be undertaken, states and territories may be choosing to do that based on the education advice they are receiving to ensure schools can open and stay open,’ he told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.
‘Where they believe that is necessary, the Commonwealth government will be supporting that.’
Mr Morrison said the Commonwealth would support the states despite it not being federal health advice because keeping schools open was a top priority.
‘States and territories will make decisions to keep schools open. We need the schools open, we need them to stay open,’ he said.
‘That is why we have agreed to be supportive and facilitative of that decision, where they choose to make it.’
In a national cabinet meeting on Thursday it was confirmed states and territories would be following their own designed back-to-school safe return plans
Mr Morrison said the Commonwealth would support the states despite it not being federal health advice because keeping schools open was a top priority
The definition of a close contact – 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,’ Prof Kelly said.
Prof 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.’
But Mr Morrison said previous data revealed the most likely source of infection for a child was at home and with Omicron rampant in the community, there is risk everywhere.
Prof Kelly said there needed to be minimal disruption to face-to-face learning but didn’t directly answer a question on what isolation requirements would be in place if a person in a classroom tests positive.
Queensland and South Australia will delay the opening of school for the year in order to lift vaccination rates.
Prof Kelly said there needed to be minimal disruption to face-to-face learning but didn’t directly answer questions on isolation requirements
Labor frontbencher Kristina Keneally said there was no doubt schools needed some form of ongoing and regular rapid testing regime.
‘Quite depressingly, Omicron may not be the last variant and we’re going to need some type of system,’ she told Sky News.
‘But we don’t have it right now, we simply don’t. While (surveillance testing) might seem good in theory or on paper … the prime minister didn’t order enough tests.’
Speaking while national cabinet was meeting, Senator Keneally said there was no clear plan.
‘We are days away from school, we have empty supermarket shelves, we have parents and teachers not sure what the rules will be for the safe return to schools,’ she said.
Mr Morrison said states and territories would all be following the national principles set out earlier in January.
The six principles included schools being the first places to open and last to close in an outbreak, baseline public health measures continue, and responses will be proportionate and based on health risk.
The prime minister also said the return to schools would not increase furlough rates during an outbreak, with modelling suggesting a return to school would reduce the number of workers unable to work at any given time by five per cent.
Your State/Territory’s Safe Back-to-School Plan
Queensland has moved the beginning of their school year from January 24 to February 7 to avoid school starting during the predicted peak of their outbreak.
The state also hopes that the extra time will allow more children to receive their first dose of the Covid vaccine.
Year 11 and 12 students are set to begin remote learning from January 31.
New South Wales
Eastern division school in NSW will start the school year on January 28 while western division school will begin classes February 4.
The state is reportedly preparing a plan that will ask students to undergo two rapid antigen tests a week.
Premiere Dominic Perrottet has not yet confirmed the plan but said at a press conference on Tuesday ‘at this stage we see rapid antigen tests playing a role as we open up schools.’
It is understood students will not need to stay home if a classmate tests positive.
Victoria has said students will begin classes on January 28 and government schools will open on January 31.
Victoria is also understood to be creating a plan that will require students to undergo a rapid antigen test twice a week but will not require them to stay home if a classmate tests positive.
The state’s government has also provided $60m in funding to help school’s create more outdoor areas for students to spend time in.
The school year in Tasmania will begin February 9.
Students over the age of 12 and education staff will be required to wear a surgical face mask while at school.
Air purifiers have been installed in Tasmania’s government schools’ classrooms.
Key year levels in South Australia – pre-school, reception, one, seven, eight and 12 – will resume face-to-face learning on February 2.
Other year levels will begin classes on the same day but will learn from home until February 14.
Vulnerable students and children of essential workers will be allowed to return to school on January 31 for two days of supervision and then face-to-face learning.
The South Australian government said it would not postpone the beginning of the school year by a fortnight despite teachers’ union pushing for the delay.
Most schools in the Northern Territory will resume classes on January 31 with the exception of remote schools who will resume February 1.
The government has also urged school to enforce physical distancing measures where possible.
Western Australian school will start back on January 31.
The state’s education minister Sue Ellery said there are ‘more than 5,000 vaccinated casual staff’ that are available to fill in school staff shortages due to infection.
Australian Capital Territory
New students in the ACT will start school on January 31 while continuing students return on February 1.
Covid arrangements in schools will be similar to those of the last term of 2021.