Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk held a press conference about coronavirus at Parliament House this afternoon. Speaking is Chief Health Officer Dr Jeanette Young PSM. 15th March 2020 Brisbane AAP Image/Richard Gosling
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk held a press conference about coronavirus at Parliament House this afternoon. Speaking is Chief Health Officer Dr Jeanette Young PSM. 15th March 2020 Brisbane AAP Image/Richard Gosling

State’s schools to stay open … for now

SCHOOLS will be closed in a staged way rather than through a statewide ban to halt the spread of coronavirus in coming months.

News of the targeted plan comes as parents were told closing them now could actually cause more deaths.

The Palaszczuk Government will next revise the decision on Friday to keep schools open, as principals today scramble to cancel school assemblies, arrange staggered lunch breaks and reschedule in-school gatherings and events to thwart the virus.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young and Health Minister Steven Miles during a press conference on Sunday. Picture: Richard Gosling/AAP
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young and Health Minister Steven Miles during a press conference on Sunday. Picture: Richard Gosling/AAP

But Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said closing schools now could prove devastating for the health sector responding to the deadly bug, as doctors and nurses were forced to stay home to care for their kids.

"But also too, we don't want to see children placed with their grandparents - the most vulnerable," she said. "There is no need to stop going to school."

Queensland's Chief Medical Officer Jeannette Young said school closures would be a strategic move made when the time was right.

Dr Young said authorities would respond to local clusters, for example closing all schools in Toowoomba, or Townsville, if there was an outbreak.

"This is going to be a decision made depending on the need of a particular community and the requirement there," she said.

"And our state is so big I'm sure that we're going to see things happening here (in the southeast) before they start happening in Cairns or Townsville."

She said it had been prudent to cancel mass gatherings, which include school fetes, fairs and concerts attended by 500 people or more to stop the virus taking hold.

But it wouldn't be until there were mass outbreaks that students would be kept home.

"Now's not the time when you'd do it, it's a bit further down when you have a lot of cases and you just need to dampen it down," she said.

"We're not there yet, that's where Italy is at, that's where other countries are at."

Education Minister Grace Grace confirmed principals had been asked to cease full school assemblies, arrange staggered lunch breaks and reschedule large gatherings.

"Schools should also pay extra attention to health and hygiene measures including increasing the frequency of the cleaning of toilet facilities and providing additional soap and sanitiser."

In a letter to schools yesterday, Education Department Director-General Tony Cook directed all principals to review upcoming activities to minimise the need for large gatherings and postpone any until further notice.

"As we have already seen across the world, this situation is likely to continue for some time and is evolving and as such, our preparations must be for the short, medium and long term," he said.

"I ask that you continue to take all necessary local actions to support health and hygiene in your school and act in a protective and preventive manner to help limit the spread of this novel coronavirus."

Independent Schools Queensland executive director David Robertson said they were considering all upcoming activities, especially those involving large groups of students, staff and families.

He said private schools were today issued the latest advice on containment measures.

"These decisions will be specific to each school and their operations and scheduled events," he said.

Queensland Catholic Education Commission executive director Dr Lee-Anne Perry said individual schools would manage the advice based on their own circumstances but the directive would likely include a number of contingencies.
"At this unprecedented time, all schools will need to continually assess the risks associated with this evolving situation," she said.

"In line with the mass gatherings restrictions, school fetes, concerts or other events likely to attract more than 500 people will not be able to proceed."


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