National Cabinet Fails to Agree on Consistent Plan for Reopening Schools

By Marina Zhang
Marina Zhang
Marina Zhang
Marina Zhang is based in Melbourne and focuses on Australian news. Contact her at
January 20, 2022 Updated: January 20, 2022

Each of Australia’s states and territories will follow their own back-to-plans rather than a nationally-consistent approach that Prime Minister Scott Morrison had sought prior to the National Cabinet meeting on Thursday.

“Operational plans for the return to schools will be being announced individually by each jurisdiction over the course of the next few days and some will make their announcements, indeed, today,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.

“Those school operational plans will be consistent with the principles that we agreed last week.”

Morrison said there had been a lot of discussion by the leaders of Australia’s states and territories at the National Cabinet about tailoring their back-to-school arrangements amidst the wave of the Omicron variant of the novel coronavirus sweeping the country.

“So states are tailoring that regarding their opening arrangements. But they will be consistent with the principles of getting schools open and keeping schools open,” he said.

“That is especially true from day one, term one for those children of essential workers.

“So even in Queensland and South Australia, where they will have different opening arrangements for essential workers, their kids will be able to go to those schools which is very important for the impacts that that can have on labour force.”

The outcome is not what Morrison had hoped for, when on Jan. 10 he said wanted to “harmonise” a consistent set of principles across all states as schools reopening plans.

Not Waiting for Double Vaccination of Children

Morrison confirmed that schools would reopen even without the double-dose vaccination rate among children being low.

“The government, both Commonwealth state and territory levels, have no advice that says that schools should not reopen if they haven’t had double vaccination,” he said.

“So it has not been set out as a condition for schools to return, for double vaccinations to be in place.”

He said it was not “practical” in the time remaining before school is due to recommence to double vaccinate children aged five to 11.

“And nor was that considered an impediment to schools reopening from a health perspective,” he said.

Meanwhile, he encouraged parents to double-vaccinate their children who are aged 12 and over.

The states and territories have also indicated they will follow the advice of their experts in regards to implementing surveillance testing regimes of staff or students.

The national Chief Medical Officer, Prof. Paul Kelly, said that Omicron cases are expected to increase as the movements of children increases around cities and regions when they go to back to school.

However, he noted that it was important to get schools back open.

“That is really important from all sorts of reasons for health, physical, mental, social, developmental for children, and so we certainly have to take that on its merits and balance, like we’ve been doing with the essential workers that issue,” he said.

Australia began administering vaccines to children aged five to 11 from Jan. 10 and as of Jan. 20, 21.6 percent (pdf) of children aged under 12 have received at least one dose.

Health Minister Greg Hunt confirmed on ABC Radio on Thursday that despite the vaccination rate for children was just over 20 percent, it was safe for schools to reopen for children.

Marina Zhang
Marina Zhang is based in Melbourne and focuses on Australian news. Contact her at