Thousands of Australians are taking part in a major social media movement today calling on Scott Morrison to shut the nation’s schools.The prime minister said today schools would not be closing, and he’s being backed by every state leader in the nation and Australia’s best medical minds.
However, Prime Minister’s critics have come out in force on social media.
Using the hashtag #ShutTheSchools, which is currently the nation’s top trending term on Twitter, they argue the strategy is putting lives at risk.
Here’s what some of the more reasonable Twitter users are saying.
However, state premiers have come out in Mr Morrison’s defence this afternoon, saying the idea of shutting schools over virus fears is “absolutely ridiculous”.
The NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian and the Victorian premier Daniel Andrews said they back the Prime Minister’s advice.
“I know there has been some concern expressed by some people about that policy. I want to stress we believe there is strongly, as State leaders, as the Prime Minister has stated, the best option for schools is that they stay open,” Ms Berejiklian said. “It is the best option from a health perspective and also a best option moving forward.”
She said that any school that’s thinking of going against this advice should “reconsider”.
South Australian premier Steven Marshall said this afternoon that the suggestion to shut schools was “absolutely ridiculous”.
“What’s the point of closing for two weeks? What happens at the end of those two weeks?” he said.
“This is not a political decision, it is not an ideological decision, it is an evidence-based decision which has been informed by the brightest minds in Australia and they’re making it very clear.
“Children should go to school and to preschool and to kindy, here in South Australia, and around the country, and not to do so doesn’t diminish the risk – in fact, it increases the risk and it reduces our response as a nation so the coronavirus.”
The Prime Minister said the health advice to keep Australian schools open was supported by all the state Premiers, all the Chief Ministers and his government.
RELATED: Follow the latest coronavirus updates
“There are a number of reasons for this,” he said. “The first one is that the virus operates very differently amongst younger people.
“It has a different manifestation amongst younger people and that presents a very different health challenge to the broader population.
“In terms of the health and welfare of our children, many of us here are parents and obviously we are concerned about the health of our kids and the health advice that I’m happy to follow for my kids, for Jenny and my kids, is the same health advice I am asking all other parents around the country to follow.
“We all love our kids and there is nothing we wouldn’t do for them. I am telling you that, as a father, I’m happy for my kids to go to school.”
Mr Morrison said the one reason your kids shouldn’t be going to school and that is if they are unwell.
“As parents, you are in the best position to know if your children are unwell,” he said. “Don’t leave it to the teacher to work that out when they arrive, or the school administrator or whoever is on drop-off, make sure, if your child is unwell, that you are taking action to keep your child out of school. That is your responsibility.
“Schools will obviously try and operate to the best of their ability to limit children who may come who are unwell but let’s not forget our responsibility as parents in this process.”
Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said the government had looked at virus cases in China and only 2.4 per cent of the cases reported in Hubei Province were in people under 19.
“Children have very, very few instances of clinical disease, and if they do, of even more severe disease,” he said.
“This is quite different to influenza and other respiratory diseases which have quite severe disease sometimes in children. We know that even in influenza, school closures are a controversial issue. We believe very strongly that it’s in the best interest of our children and the nation at this time to keep schools open.”
He said most of the children infected in China were reported as having picked up the virus from adults in their household.
“But we don’t know whether children may be a vector of asymptomatic or transmission with low levels of symptoms. So we need to make sure that our schools are made as safe as possible,” he said.
“We need to make sure that no sick child goes to school. We need to make sure that no sick teacher goes to school. We need to try and avoid large assemblies and other gatherings at schools.
“We know that it’s not really possible for children in a classroom to keep 1.5m apart from each other, and we know that we’ve got to be practical about that.”
He said the nation should trust its teachers.
“It will be hard for schools, but it would be much, much, much harder for society if the schools were closed,” he said. We want our children to be looked after in schools.
“If they were at home, we know that they probably wouldn’t stay at home, they would probably congregate anyway and if transmission were occurring, it would happen.
“Or they may be looked after by vulnerable elderly relatives who are the people that we’re worried about.”
However, thousands of parents are not happy with the advice and they are withdrawing their children from schools, leaving classrooms half empty in those that are staying open.
There are now dozens of non-government schools in NSW and Victoria that have scrapped face-to-face classes.
Pupils at those schools have been sent home for up to four weeks to continue their education online.
In NSW, the Teachers Federation said social distancing measures recommended by the government are “impossible” to implement given the size and layout of schools.
They said there has been a big downturn in school attendance across the state so far this week.
Its president Angelo Gavrielatos said roughly 30 per cent of schools had more than 500 students with the largest public school having a population bigger than 2000 students.
“Schools have been told to implement a range of social distancing measures which include keeping a distance of 1.5m between persons and minimising physical contact where possible,” Mr Gavrielatos said.
“However, the design of many of our schools and the size of our classrooms make this impossible.”
“The overcrowding of some schools also makes this impossible beyond the classroom. This is further amplified on wet days when children and their teachers have to remain indoors.”