School ‘safer than remaining in community’

Dominic Giannini and Andrew Brown |

Schools may be safer for children than remaining in the community, one infectious diseases physician says as he predicts a peak of Omicron COVID-19 cases in coming weeks. 

Dr Clay Golledge predicted a peak of infections is still some weeks away, with cases then set to plateau for several more weeks before dropping off.

But Dr Golledge said schools were safe to return to amid the case high, branding a short delay to the start of the school year as illogical.

“It is really important kids get back to school. Children get a very mild illness or no illness at all and their transmissibility is less,” he said.

“It is a bit of a falsehood to say it is not safe to go back to schools. Clearly there will be some mitigation measures in place in terms of air quality, ventilation and the vaccination program.”

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.”

But Dr Golledge said a two-week delay such as Queensland’s wasn’t a timeframe that would make any substantial difference.

“I don’t see what an extra two weeks in Queensland is going to buy in terms of mass numbers of vaccinations or changing in air quality over that short period of time,” he said.

“It doesn’t seem to be logical to me.”

Australia’s two biggest states have committed to reopening schools on time for the new year, amid calls to delay bringing children back as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said children needed to be back “on day one” while Victorian acting health minister James Merlino said the state would “absolutely” deliver face-to-face learning as planned. 

“(My priorities are) hospitalisations number one and number two is getting kids back into the classroom,” Mr Perrottet said on Wednesday.

Mr Merlino said he was working with NSW and other jurisdictions for a nationally consistent framework schools returning.

“I want every child back at school day one term one and we will be making sure that that is the case,” he said.

“We made a commitment to the people of Victoria – get vaccinated, and then we can move beyond remote learning, move beyond lockdowns.”

But GPs have expressed concern a shortage of vaccines and workforce constraints will slow the child vaccination rollout.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said if the government had followed medical advice, people would have been vaccinated earlier and received their boosters earlier. 

“We would have been making sure the kids who are eligible were actually able to get appointments so that school could go back on time,” he said.

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.

It comes as NSW recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic, with 21 fatalities and another 34,759 cases reported.

Meanwhile, Victoria on Wednesday recorded 40,127 new cases and 21 deaths.

There were also 22,069 cases in Queensland, 1583 in Tasmania, 3715 cases and seven deaths in SA, and 1078 cases in the ACT.