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COVID-19 - School Closures

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Thursday, 19 March 2020

Tags: COVID-19, Community Safety, Schools, Health

COVID-19 School Closures: Cassy O'Connor, 19 March, 2020



Today you have declared a state of emergency, a clear acknowledgment of the great danger COVID-19 poses to our island community. On behalf of every vulnerable Tasmania I say thank you.

Overnight the United Kingdom closed all its schools, joining governments across Europe and Asia in moving to stem the spread of this virus through their education systems. Tasmania has the oldest, sickest and poorest population of any Australian state. There is high vulnerability to COVID-19's most devastating human impacts. Doctors, the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, teachers and parents are all calling for school closures. At what point in this pandemic's progression in Tasmania will you move to close schools?



Madam Speaker, I thank Ms O'Connor, the member for Clark, the Leader of the Greens, for that question. I have constantly said we are taking advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee on this matter. While I note what has occurred in the United Kingdom, they are much further advanced in the transmission across their community than we are.

We will continue to take a precautionary approach. We will act on the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee. That is the key decision-making committee for health emergencies, and is collectively drawing all of its information and advice from the heads of their public health services from every state and territory on a daily basis and feeding into that process.

The Department of Education is working closely with Public Health. The situation is constantly evolving, and we will take expert advice on a day-by-day basis.

I make the point that if there was a confirmed case at a school, that school would close. We have made that perfectly clear, and that school would be appropriately cleaned.

It is important to note that we do not know how long this circumstance will last. The measure we have taken today hopefully flattens the curve and ensures community transmission is kept at a minimum in Tasmania.

At some stage, there will be community transmission. We can all reasonably expect that to occur. It is important, though, that we keep some normality and routineness to what is occurring in our community. Certainly the advice we have received is that having that routine and normality is beneficial for the mental health and wellbeing of young people - and importantly, for many in our community, the schools will be the safest place for their children. I note that you have given a nod for that.

We are providing fact sheets to parents; the department remains in constant contact with our schools. We have introduced precautionary measures. Social distancing measures are being adopted in schools, and we have cancelled assemblies, presentation nights, excursions, travels, fetes, fairs, concerts with audiences, all sports carnivals and school camps. The Department of Education has ensured we have the contracts in place to ensure we have the appropriate supply of washroom products and soap. As I said yesterday, there has obviously been an increased demand, but we are working with individual schools and will do everything we can.

I was asked a question this morning about additional cleaning. We will make the necessary resources available so that, if they need to, schools can contract in additional cleaners. We will not spare any expense on this. We will do what needs to be done. At times there will be challenges with our supply chains, but as a government we will do everything we possibly can to make certain our schools have what they need.