Scott Morrison is emphatic that students will return to schools later this month, but state premiers and the country’s GPs have suggested it may not be so easy.
With rising Omicron cases across the country and issues surrounding the rollout of vaccinating children aged 5-11, the return to the classroom is somewhat in doubt despite the Prime Minister saying at the end of Wednesday’s national cabinet meeting that there was a “shared view” that schools “go back and stay back”.
“On day one of term 1,” he said.
“And over the next fortnight, we have tasked the secretary of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and his colleagues in each of the jurisdictions to come back to us next week with a set of final recommendations … which will set out a national framework for the return of school.
“And that will include everything from the testing arrangements that have been put in place, any furloughing issues that need to arise, matters relating to workplace health and safety, matters relating to rates of vaccination and a series of other issues which will be defined over the course of the next week.
“(We want) to ensure that we have a clear common approach as best as we are able to achieve across all the states and territories.”
Children aged 5-11 will be eligible for their vaccination from next week, but with eight weeks needed between doses, it is almost impossible to get enough children vaccinated in time before term 1 is slated to return.
Remaining determined, Mr Morrison said children had suffered too much to go through another year of schools “opening and closing, opening and closing and the destruction that will cause”.
But in Queensland, a group of Catholic school principals have called an emergency meeting to discuss contingency plans, while the state Education Minister said the department was “carefully monitoring” the Covid-19 situation.
Prior to national cabinet, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk – who has been outspoken about her desire to see children vaccinated – said the government was “doing some modelling”.
In NSW, parent groups are begging the government to extend the summer holidays by at least two weeks amid escalating Covid-19 cases and concern about their children’s safety.
But NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet on Wednesday said he was confident schools would resume as normal later this month.
“Our No.1 priority is to keep our kids safe and our teachers safe as we open up classrooms,” he said.
From Monday, children will be eligible for their jabs, but GPs across the country are warning the system is not prepared to vaccinate the more than two million young people.
The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Karen Price said there needed to be a priority to vaccinate “as many children as we can as quickly as we can” before they return to schools.
“The problem we face with rolling out Covid-19 vaccines to children is that vaccinating children is a more complex job compared to adults,” Dr Price said.
“Children require more time and care as well as space because their parents come with them, and this has to be factored in by practices planning vaccine clinics.
“In an ideal world we would be able to vaccinate all children by the time the school year starts because we know it has been a significant source of infections and it’s disruptive for children when schools have to close.
“However, it’s a mammoth task. We need to throw everything we have at it, not try to get the job done with one hand tied behind our backs.”