Don’t delay school start, leaders urged

Dominic Giannini and Andrew Brown |

Australia’s former deputy chief medical officer has put his name on a letter to national cabinet calling for leaders to not delay the start of the school year. 

Dr Nick Coatsworth, along with other medical experts, says children going back to school will not have an impact on the trajectory of COVID-19 Omicron cases. 

“Many kids have already had it so there is no cause to delay schools going back,” Dr Coatsworth told Nine Network on Wednesday.

“It is not correct to delay it. I put my name on a letter (on Wednesday) to national cabinet indicating we do not feel as medical experts that is right.”

Federal, state and territory leaders will meet on Thursday to consider a nationally consistent approach to getting children back to school safely and how to balance their health and mental wellbeing.

But clinical epidemiologist Nancy Baxter says while school is essential for children, a one or two-week delay won’t have a long-term impact, especially if choice is involved.

Professor Baxter says parents should be able to choose whether to send their child to school on the first week or not. 

“Schools could be open, but potentially not for all students,” she told the ABC.

“Some students may not feel safe to go back to school, some parents may not feel safe to send their kids back to school before they’re vaccinated.”

The United Workers Union wants the federal government to define early educators as frontline essential workers, provide free rapid tests and expand the definition of close contacts to include the workplace so financial support is available for teachers needing to isolate. 

Meanwhile, urgent talks continue on which business sectors will have isolation rules relaxed for their workers, after a rapid rise in infections led to widespread supply chain issues.

Supply chains have been severely impacted by the Omicron outbreak, with thousands of people isolating after contracting the variant or because they are a close contact of an infected person.

Nationals Senator Matt Canavan says sensible rules around isolation and quarantine requirements are needed.

“We need to keep our supermarkets stocked, maybe keep KFC open, keep popcorn chicken rolling, all those things that we need to have,” he told Sky News on Wednesday.

“We don’t really need popcorn chicken but we do need to have a functioning economy to supply people with essential items.”

The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee released preliminary advice on Monday for grocery supply workers that allows them to come out of isolation and go back to work if they test negative after being a close contact.

Australian Medical Association Vice President Chris Moy said more rapid antigen tests are needed to safely implement the change.

“The biggest problem at the moment is we are lacking rapid antigen tests,” he told Sky News on Wednesday.

“We need a lot of them because the problem with scrapping close contact rules is the potential to accelerate the pandemic.

“If you had enough RATs you could test those people to make sure – before they go out for their shift – they are not infectious or much less likely (to be so).”

There were more than 90,000 cases reported nationally on Tuesday.

In NSW, there were 25,870 new cases along with 11 deaths, while Victoria registered 37,994 cases and 13 deaths.

One death was recorded in Queensland as the state notched up 20,566 cases, while Tasmania announced 1379 new infections.

There was one new death in the ACT, with a record 1508 infections in the national capital, while there were 2921 cases in South Australia and 594 in the Northern Territory.