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COVID-19 Issues in Schools

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 2 March 2022

Tags: COVID-19, Schools

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I thank the minister for coming in and providing that information without flim-flam or embellishment. It is really helpful to parents, teachers and students for government to be as transparent as possible about what is happening in our schools.

Now we have learned that there are 1703 Tasmanian children and young people who are infected with a virus that medical science is really only just beginning to understand in any kind of detail and we are only two years into this pandemic. Of the 1703 confirmed active cases, we know that 1292 of them are in primary schools. As the minister said in his answer this morning to Dr Woodruff, it is true to say that case numbers are higher among cohorts where there is less mask wearing. It has never been explained to Tasmanians, to Tasmanian parents or students or school communities why it is that you would let unvaccinated, under-12s go back into face-to-face learning unmasked. There is no public health evidence on the table that that is the correct approach. We have said it before, and we will keep saying it, this is playing Russian roulette with our children and our grandchildren. We are only just now beginning to understand the impact of contracting this disease on children in jurisdictions like the UK and the United States, where mass infection of children and young people was facilitated by government policy.

Dr Woodruff and I would like to understand if it is the policy of Government, if it is the Public Health policy, to allow or facilitate the infection of children because there is a belief in herd immunity -

Mr Jaensch - What a ridiculous thing to say.

Ms O'CONNOR - It is not a ridiculous thing to say, minister. We have heard Public Health officials interstate like the Chief Health Officer of Queensland tell the people of Queensland it is necessary for them to get infected. It is not.

Mr Barnett - They read into it.

Mr Jaensch - Can you not just have a proper conversation about this?

Ms O'CONNOR - I cannot be responsible for the fact, Mr Barnett and Mr Jaensch, that you do not inform yourself about this virus and the impact on the human body and the impact on children. We have.

I also pay very close attention to what public health officials are saying interstate and overseas. I know that at least the Queensland Chief Health Officer is quite comfortable with the mass infection of children. The Commonwealth Chief Health Officer talked about the trade offs in sending unvaxed, unmasked primary school students back into face to face learning. This is not some bizarre conspiracy theory, in fact it is an element of Government policy. That is the only way you can view this when a decision was made to send children who had not been vaccinated, without masks, into inadequately ventilated and filtered classrooms.

This is playing Russian roulette with the health of children. We are now seeing millions of children in the UK, in particular, which now has the longest data set, millions of children who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms - fatigue, memory loss, psychological problems - eight months, 12 months, a year-and-a-half after the acute infection phase of this virus. What is the rationale for allowing children to keep going back into classrooms without masks?

Just this afternoon, I know of the nephew of a close friend in a public school and the grandson of a close friend in an independent school - primary school children - who are infected with a virus that can have devastating long term consequences for the human body. This is not theoretical. It is now a medically established fact that this virus can stay in the body for months and months. It tricks our immune system, it gets into our grey matter, it can enlarge our heart, it is a vascular disease that travels through our body in our blood. It has been found in testicles. It has been found in ovaries. It has been found in every organ in the human body.

We need to stop being glib about this virus. We need to stop pretending everything will be fine. We are not yet in the post pandemic world. Whatever the Premier said in his state of the state speech yesterday, we are not there. In Denmark, deaths are soaring because there is a new variant, BA2, which is an offshoot of Omicron. Let us not try magical thinking on this. The pandemic is not over. Let us be very careful as we step forward. Let us respect the fact that parents and teachers and indeed students right now are getting infected, are stressed and are worried about the long-term consequences of their infection.