The NSW premier says there's no rationale for shutting down schools amid the coronavirus pandemic. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS

Health

‘No rationale’ for closing NSW schools

2020-03-19 16:14:01

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has implored schools across the state to keep their doors open amid the coronavirus pandemic, saying any public or private school considering closure should reconsider.

The federal government on Wednesday declared that schools and universities would not shut as COVID-19 cases climb across the country. NSW has 267 confirmed coronavirus cases and five deaths.

Recent cases in schools – including Epping Boys High School and Willoughby Girls High School in Sydney – have prompted brief closures for cleaning, while several private schools have moved learning online.

The peak body for NSW private schools, the Association of Independent Schools of NSW, on Tuesday said it was advising schools to follow government advice, but urged prudence among boarding schools.

It admitted a number of NSW private schools were moving to online learning.

Ms Berejiklian on Wednesday advised against such a move and also ruled out any extension of the Easter school holiday period.

But assemblies will be halted while strict bans on sick students and teachers attending school will be implemented and handwashing enforced.

“There is no rationale for closing down schools,” Ms Berejiklian told reporters.

“Every bit of advice we have received across the nation, in NSW, from health experts, is that schools should remain open. We would hope any school considering acting alone on this reconsider.”

NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said she was in lockstep with her federal counterpart, Professor Brendan Murphy, who on Wednesday said keeping schools open was the best thing to protect the community.

Dr Chant reiterated that COVID-19 infection was mild in children and they were most likely to catch the illness from adults rather than other children.

As such, she was comfortable with schools remaining open, while children were simultaneously barred from attending aged care facilities.

“What we’re concerned about is protecting the vulnerable – the profile of this disease is much more severe in the elderly,” Dr Chant told reporters on Wednesday.

“We know that once you get above 70, particularly if you have underlying health conditions, your course is more severe.”

Children should only stay home if they are unwell, Dr Chant added.

Professor Robert Booy from the University of Sydney says children’s immune systems are quite different from those of adults.

“We’ve been taught through many other pandemics and many other viral infections that when children get a viral infection for the first time they really can get it quite mildly,” Prof Booy said in a video posted online by the Australian Academy of Science.

“The same virus that’s very mild in a child really can be quite severe in an adult.”

Prof Booy said children could host and transmit infection, but milder cases in older children who knew to wash their hands were unlikely to be major sources of transmission.

“They could pass it to someone in their family, but I don’t see them as super-transmitters.”