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Paul Osborne and Dominic Giannini
(Australian Associated Press)
The two biggest states have backed a federal push for schools to reopen in a coordinated way across the country.
Queensland has moved to delay the start of the school term by a fortnight, after health advisers said it would give more time for people to get vaccinated.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison revealed on Monday his department boss Phil Gaetjens was working with states and territories to harmonise the start of the school year, laying down some ground rules for the process.
Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley called for a uniform reopening to schools, saying children had done it tough over the past two years.
“We’ve all done it really hard but kids, in particular, haven’t been able to get vaccinated, they’ve missed a lot of school to protect the rest of the community,” he said.
“We want to make sure that their sacrifice, their effort is recognised by getting them back to school as quickly as possible … but that we do so safely.”
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said the further availability of rapid test kits would be central to school returning on time.
He said he was determined children would be back in the classroom on day one of term one.
Queensland’s chief health officer John Gerrard said the delayed start in his state would allow more children to be vaccinated – with the five to 11 year old vaccine program starting on Monday – and for adults to get their booster shots.
Asked whether parents should be concerned about the health risks of sending their children back to school unvaccinated, Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said illness had been less severe in children since the start of the pandemic.
“For the vast majority of children who have Omicron it is a very, very mild disease,” he said.
“It’s related to balancing the wider aspects and the importance of face-to-face learning in schools with the risk of COVID.”
Professor Kelly said there were important issues around mental and physical health to consider when looking at the safe reopening of schools, with advice due to go to a meeting of the national cabinet on Thursday.
Mr Morrison said he was encouraged by the fact that Queensland was allowing the children of essential workers to return to school as scheduled.
But he warned against other states delaying the start of term one.
“As we see the Omicron wave rise, sometimes you do things which just pushes the wave further out. You still get the same outcome.”
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said parents were anxious because they were told they would be able to find appointments for their children but this hasn’t been the case.
“We should be taking the health advice but we should be getting it right,” he told reporters when asked about whether the return to school should be delayed.
“Everybody wants life to go back to normal but what keeps happening is reality catches up with rhetoric.”
Mr Morrison said the objective was to ensure that when school started it was not later cancelled.
“Our objective is go back, stay back, day one term one.”