The delay of the Queensland school year could be extended as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout begins for five to 11-year-olds with the state’s outbreak topping 80,500 cases.
The state government announced on Sunday it would delay the January 24 return of classes for most students until February 7 after recording 18,000 new virus cases.
Year 11 and 12 students will start online learning on January 31 ahead of the expected return.
Education Minister Grace Grace says the delay will help ensure there’s enough staff available and that younger children can get fully vaccinated in time.
However, she has warned that the return could be impacted by tight vaccine supplies or high cases among school staff.
“Look, I don’t know exactly what’s going to come into the future,” Ms Grace told ABC Radio on Monday.
“But at this stage, we’re hoping that we’ll get over the peak of Queensland, that the two weeks will be sufficient and we’ll have face to face (learning) as soon as possible.”
Deputy Police Commissioner and vaccine coordinator Shane Delepy said the vaccine rollout for about 478,000 five to 11-year-olds was underway in the state.
He said it was a logistical challenge before younger children needed a smaller dose than adults and because there has already been supply isses.
“The whole system is under pressure, and we’re seeing that outside of vaccines as well,” Mr Chelepy said.
The deputy commissioner also said 12 to 15-year-olds were still behind the state average of 91.10 per cent of Queenslanders who’ve had one dose of a vaccine and 87.67 per cent fully vaccinated.
“We’re still seeing daily more first doses from that cohort, and I think we just got to recognise that cohort started a bit later”, Mr Chelepy said.
Meanwhile, Ms Grace said the government had considered allowing all children above the age of 11 to return to online learning on January 24, like those in Year 11 and 12, but staff shortages made that too difficult.
Industries were facing staff shortages nationwide, she said, with thousands of people in isolation with COVID-19 or quarantining as close contacts.
“We really make want to make sure that we keep our schools as safe as possible, we make sure that we staff them to the level that we need to, so for example, if I’ve got one in four teachers off sick, it’s very hard to deliver education if that is the case,” the minister said.
On Sunday, there were 422 people being treated for COVID-19 in Queensland hospitals with 22 in ICU and five of those on ventilators.
Chief Health Officer John Gerrard said while those numbers were low, they would start to “escalate substantially” in the next seven days.
“So we’re talking in the thousands … and I’ve said that before,” Dr Gerrard told reporters on Sunday..