Closing every school in Victoria to help prevent the spread of coronavirus could currently do more harm than good, Premier Daniel Andrews has stressed as another 23 cases were recorded in the state.
Toorak Primary School in Melbourne’s inner southeast has closed for two weeks from Tuesday as a precaution after a staff member tested positive to the virus.
Schools in general have not been told to close, but some private schools – including Ballarat Grammar, Carey Baptist Grammar School, Loreto Mandeville Hall, St Kevin’s, St Michael’s and Yeshiva-Beth Rivkah College – have decided to shut their gates regardless.
Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton says the decision not to close schools was based on how the disease presented in children, and to avoid busy health and emergency workers being forced to look after their children.
It comes as non-essential mass gatherings of more than 500 people have been banned.
Mr Andrews insists it’s the right call.
“I know many, many parents are anxious, they’re concerned, and I know to a certain extent it’s a bit counterintuitive that schools remain open,” he said on Tuesday.
“But the advice is, closing schools now – that’s not to say they won’t close at some stage in the future – but if we were to close them now, across the board, that could make a very difficult set of circumstances even worse.
“It could do more harm than good.”
Victorian Education Minister James Merlino said the advice is that it’s best to close schools closer to the peak of the infection.
If government schools are closed down, teachers will continue to be paid and will keep working on their laptops, he said.
Most of the state’s universities are moving classes and lectures online including La Trobe, Melbourne, Monash, RMIT and Swinburne universities.
The state government is waiting to see what will be delivered in the federal government’s second round of stimulus, expected to be announced soon, before drafting its own package to stave off an expected economic downturn.
“Our number one priority is the health and wellbeing of Victorian,” Treasurer Tim Pallas said, noting he was monitoring the federal government’s efforts
“The last thing that we would want to see is duplicated effort.”
The state’s total of positive tests is now 94, with the new cases consisting of 12 women and 11 men, aged between their early twenties to mid-sixties.
Of Victoria’s confirmed cases 63 were acquired overseas or through close contact with known, confirmed cases.
There are two cases of community transmission, while the source of 29 cases are still being investigated.
Meanwhile, the National Australia Bank and Country Road and David Jones head offices in Melbourne were closed after staff tested positive.
NAB chief executive Ross McEwan said its CBD building would be “pandemically cleansed” before workers return later in the week.
A state of emergency was declared in Victoria on Monday to enforce the national 14-day isolation sanctions on all travellers coming into Australia, announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the weekend.
Anyone returning from overseas will have to self-isolate or risk fines of up to $20,000, while police officers will have the power to can detain people, restrict movement and prevent entry to premises.
Victorian Transport Infrastructure Minister Jacinta Allan said there is no advice that the construction of major infrastructure projects in the state will be affected by the restriction on mass gatherings, but stressed that advice could change.