Here’s why Australian schools remain open despite new coronavirus bans

NSW says students will return to its schools under a staged management plan from mid-May.

NSW says students will return to its schools under a staged management plan from mid-May. Photo: Getty

Questions have been raised over why Australian students can keep going to school and university when gatherings of more than 500 people have been banned by the federal government.

If large crowds have been banned to limit the spread of COVID-19, why should parents feel OK sending their children to schools where dozens sit in tightly packed classrooms?

Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the decision to cancel non-essential events with more than 500 attendees was “precautionary” at this stage.

“It is getting ahead of this to ensure that we can minimise the impact on your health and [so] we can ensure with confidence the ability for people to be accessing the health services that they and their families will need,” Mr Morrison told reporters.

Australia’s chief medical officer added: “The risk to the Australian community in general still remains low, (as) most of our cases are still imported”.

Even though COVID-19 is not rapidly spreading through our communities just yet, some have suggested it would be wise to shut down schools as a “precaution”.

But shutting down schools can cause other problems, like childcare issues.

In most Australian families, it is common for both parents to work, some part-time and many full-time.

If school is suddenly cancelled, millions of parents will be left scrambling to sort out childcare arrangements so they can keep going to work to earn money for their families.

Julian Rait, Victorian president of the Australian Medical Association, said closing down schools could inadvertently end up putting pressure on our health systems.

“You could have couples where both parents are healthcare workers, what do they do?” Professor Rait told the ABC.

“We don’t want them out of work, especially at a time when there may be other people missing from the workforce because of ill health.”

Although there have been no reports of children dying from the coronavirus so far, it is possible that children could be unwittingly spreading it without showing many – or any – symptoms.

And those most likely to suffer the worst effects of the virus are the elderly or people with a pre-existing health condition.

Who do many parents turn to when they urgently need a babysitter?

Their parents.

Professor Rait said he was worried that if schools were shut down then grandparents – some of our most vulnerable to COVID-19 – could be relied upon to look after children.

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