Prime Minister Scott Morrison has conceded that there will “undoubtedly” be additional COVID-19 cases when schools reopen but stood firm on the decision for classes to resume.
The majority of students in Victoria and the ACT continue to learn from home but Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory have resumed physical classes. NSW and Queensland will undergo a staggered return in Term 2.
In an address to reporters on Tuesday, Morrison said the fact that Australia was not pursuing an eradication strategy like New Zealand’s approach meant that further cases of COVID-19 in schools was all but inevitable.
“Our expectation is that yes, I suspect undoubtedly you will get cases, of course that will happen,” he said, adding that any identified cases can be “managed and contained in a strong health system”.
Big financial impact from closed schools
Morrison said Treasury estimates that the “second round impacts” of schools being closed over a six-month period is around 300,000 jobs.
“One of the issues that were flagged early on in this debate was, in particular, the impact on the health workforce and the first responder workforce and those employment sectors,” he said.
“Women are some of the most affected by that with school closures and even if they are trying to work from home while at the same time looking after kids, it is not an easy job, whether you are a mum or dad doesn’t matter either”.
Morrison said that the return of students going back to school will lift productivity, help people get back to work and contribute to the recovery of the nation’s economy.
COVIDSafe app to play a key role
The Prime Minister said he expects the government’s COVIDSafe app to play a role in tracking cases, both in and outside of schools.
Following the release of the app last week, Morrison said that while downloading the app is not mandatory, everyone is encouraged to do so. So far, nearly five million Australians have downloaded the app and this number undoubtedly includes many school-aged children who will be using it when they return to school.
Some educators have pointed out that it wasn’t so long ago that the government was pushing for a ban on mobile devices in classrooms – and this irony was not lost on Dale Pearce, who heads Bendigo Senior Secondary College.
Pearce recently tweeted a hypothetical scenario in which students have returned to school and a teacher spots a mobile phone being used in class.
Teacher: Billy, you know the policy, that needs to go back in your locker.
Billy: But it’s got the COVIDSAFE app on it. I have to have it with me and bluetooth on to save lives.
Couldn’t happen, could it?