Cassy O'Connor MP | Greens Leader and Education spokesperson
School has been back for less than a week and seven Tasmanian schools have reported Covid outbreaks. This is just the beginning of climbing infection rates. It was entirely predictable from experience interstate and overseas.
Despite his personal assurance to Rebecca White and I ahead of opening the borders that he would ‘not hesitate’ to delay the start of the school year, Peter Gutwein threw caution to the wind. His government sent unvaccinated and undervaccinated children and young people back to school without hesitation or a genuine Covid-safe plan for learning.
The flaws in the government’s back to school plan are obvious. Children under 12 unvaccinated, and under 18s without a booster shot; no masks for primary school children and inadequate mask guidance; too little ventilation too late, too few CO2 monitors; not enough RATs distributed for surveillance testing; inexplicable direction for what constitutes and close contact, and an outbreak. All while Covid continues to infect hundreds of Tasmanians daily across the island.
A choice was made by governments Federal and State, for largely economic reasons, to put Tasmanian students, teachers and families at risk of infection, hospitalisation, disabling long Covid and potentially, death.
No primary or high school student is adequately protected against Omicron or Delta. The stress already being felt by Tasmanian parents will only intensify as case numbers rise and government does too little to stem infection.
The Gutwein Government ignored repeated calls by independent public health experts, the Australian Education Union and the Greens for a much more cautious approach.
While we know seven schools are experiencing outbreaks, it is unclear how many schools have reported cases among students and school staff. We know it will be more.
An increasing number of schools are likely to have Covid outbreaks as government refuses to change course.
Whoever Peter Gutwein puts into the Education Minister’s vacant chair needs to have an urgent, purposeful rethink about the strategy here. Rolling infections, parent stress, teacher shortages and huge disruptions to learning are being caused by a weak public health and Education Department response at government’s direction.
It’s time for a serious change of direction to slow the spread of Covid in schools.