NSW forges ahead with school return plan
Tiffanie Turnbull |
NSW is forging ahead with its plan to return children to classrooms for the start of term one, before primary school aged students can be fully vaccinated amid the escalating COVID-19 outbreak.
Students, teachers and parents are hoping to leave behind the pandemic disruptions that plagued the last year of schooling in NSW when the first day of classes for 2022 begins on February 1.
While just over 78 per cent of children aged 12 to 15 in NSW have been fully vaccinated, primary school aged children – those between five and 11 – will only become eligible for their first dose on Monday, January 10.
With a three week gap recommended between jabs, very few will be fully vaccinated when classrooms open their doors amid the nation’s biggest outbreak.
The Queensland government has announced it will delay the return to classrooms by two to three weeks if case numbers in the state are still peaking.
“I’ve got sisters who’ve got young children, they’re concerned and they want to make sure that their kids are vaccinated before returning to school,” Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters on Friday.
But NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has said he is determined the term will begin as planned.
“Our commitment is to get kids back in the classroom day one, term one,” he told reporters on Friday.
The health and education teams are finalising the plan to keep children safe when that happens, he said, with measures such as daily rapid COVID-19 testing being considered.
At a national cabinet meeting earlier this week a team was tasked with developing a country-wide framework to enable students to return to school as scheduled, and for schools to stay open with consistent requirements across all jurisdictions.
“I think it would be best to have a national approach and that’s the plan going into national cabinet,” Mr Perrottet said.
“But otherwise, we’ll take our approach.
“Clearly different states will be going through different surges at different points in time, and you might require different settings.”
There are also concerns the highly contagious Omicron variant could see scores of teachers diagnosed with or exposed to the virus, triggering staffing shortages.
“Just like the health system … that will be an issue,” Mr Perrottet said.
“(But) I’m very confident with the plans that I went through yesterday with our department of education.
“We are preparing for that challenge.”
In the meantime, NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant urged parents to get their children vaccinated.
“A big call out to those 12 to 15 year olds … I get very depressed when I see that number (the vaccination rate) sticking at 81.4 per cent for first dose,” she said.
“I’d love to see that number come up a little bit higher before school.”AAP