‘Schools Should Be the Last to Close and the First to Open’: Australian Expert

By Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu is based in Sydney. She focuses on Australian and New Zealand national affairs.
January 10, 2022Updated: January 10, 2022

Australia’s former deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth said no state should delay the return to school to wait for higher vaccination rates of children aged 5 to 11.

“Every government and medical expert in this country needs to follow the lead of the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Children’s Fund, which both state that schools should be the last to close and the first to open,” Coatsworth told Nine’s, Today Show. “We are not in a situation in Australia that requires a delay to school opening.”

He said vaccinations were more critical for the adult cohort, so parents should not stress over getting their children vaccinated before class starts.

“We have got to leave this fear behind and replace it with facts,” Coatsworth said, noting that data from the U.S. showed that mortality rates among fully vaccinated individuals was 0.003 percent.

He wrote on Twitter, calling on parents to resist calls for hybrid or remote learning, saying there was “no justification for it.”

New South Wales (NSW) Premier Dominic Perrottet said the government was “completely committed” to getting kids back to school on day one, term one.

“We are finalising our back-to-school plans at the moment,” Perrottet told reporters on Jan. 9. “That is exactly the focus of the NSW government. It is crucial that kids are back in school on day one.”

The premier said it was clear that it was best to ensure children are back in the classroom, but there would be bumps along the way.

Additionally, the NSW government has mandated booster shots for school staff as part of new measures to curb the spread of Omicron.

“As we prepare for the start of term one, our focus remains on keeping our staff and students safe. Adding a booster shot to the vaccination mandate will help maintain confidence that schools are a safe place to learn and work,” NSW Department of Education Secretary Georgina Harrisson said.

The government’s return to school plan will rely on rapid antigen testing after it secured its first batch of 100 million tests.

“The procurement of these additional rapid antigen tests will support the NSW public sector workforce, support our return to school plan and provide support to those most in need,” Trade and Investment Minister Stuart Ayres said.

Coatsworth said this plan was the only sustainable option and parents should be reassured that a “test to stay” has been in place throughout countries in Europe and the United Kingdom already. It involves testing the rest of the classroom when there is one positive case and allowing those with negative results to stay in the classroom.

“And that’s the way to have the balance,” he said.