A leading expert says there may be a spike in COVID-19 cases as schools begin to return in some states this week, but it is still best that children return to classrooms.
Chair for the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Jane Halton said COVID-safe measures taken by schools – including hygiene practices and rapid testing – would help to reduce transmission.
“That should give parents confidence, particularly using rapid antigen tests,” Professor Halton told the Nine Network.
“We’ll have a strategy that means for the next four weeks we will be able to surveil this and be able to tell exactly how many cases have come from schools reopening.”
More than 320,000 children will start school for the first time, and about 240,000 students will be starting year 12.
NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said the state government had ticked every box in terms of managing transmission risks as schools return.
“We have ventilation, vaccination, mask wearing, rapid antigen tests, not mixing and mingling the year groups,” she told the Nine Network.
“We have to remember that COVID is a mild illness in children, we have every safeguard and it should give parents every comfort.”
Acting federal Education Minister Stuart Robert said modelling indicated there would be an increase in transmission, but didn’t reveal what the expected increase would be.
“The key thing is its safe for kids to go back to school. We have to get back to normal,” he told Sky News.
On the same day some students return, another 4.5 million Australians have become eligible for the booster shot as the time span between second and third doses reduces to three months.
The head of the COVID vaccination task force, Lieutenant-General John Frewen, said 7.7 million Australians, just shy of 70 per cent of those eligible, had come forward for their booster shot.
“It’s a very dangerous pandemic, vaccination has been a really important part of helping keep Australians safe. Now we’ve had a position where we’ve got absolutely more than enough vaccines,” he told the Nine Network.
“It’s really important and boosters are absolutely essential. There’s plenty of opportunities to do that straight away.”
Labor continues to push free rapid tests universally as schools return and tens of thousands of infections are still posted daily.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the tests should be available on the basis of need for everyone through the Medicare system.
But Mr Albanese seemingly walked back his policy on Sunday, saying if Labor formed government, the tests would be available on “the basis of need”.
Despite saying later in the interview the policy would cover everyone, it was a change in language big enough for Coalition ministers to seize on during Monday morning’s media rounds.
The Coalition said Labor’s policy would cost $13 billion to role out.
“Why don’t you buy my toothpaste as well? Why don’t you buy my soap? [Billionaire] Andrew Forrest gets a free one, [mining magnate] Gina Rinehart gets a free one,” Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce told the Nine Network.
“You go to the people who can’t afford it and are struggling and help them out. You don’t just chuck [money] out the door willy nilly because someone somewhere has to pay it all back.”
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