SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s federal government will on Thursday urge state premiers to reopen schools, local media reported, as authorities warned against any complacency generated by a sustained slowdown in the spread of the coronavirus throughout the country.
The highly divisive schools issue is expected to be at the top of the agenda when the national cabinet, made up of state and federal leaders, formed to tackle the crisis meets later in the day, local media said.
Australia has closed restaurants, bars and stores deemed “non-essential” while using the threat of fines and even prison to stop public gatherings of more than two people in a bid to slow transmission of the flu-like illness.
However the federal government has said it wants schools to remain open, citing medical advice that children carry a low risk of transmitting the virus. Some leaders of the country’s eight states and territories – which administer schools – have departed from that policy and ordered schools shut.
“We need to have a system where the schools are open, providing that form of education, but also providing the online support for those parents who do choose to stay home,” federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg told television station Nine Entertainment.
“It is a challenging issue and we want kids not to miss a year of education. The pandemic may take lots of things away from us but we don’t want it to take away our kids’ education.”
With strict “social distancing” measures and effective closure of its borders, including internally between states, Australia has averted the high numbers of coronavirus casualties reported in other countries around the world.
The daily rate of reported new infections has steadied in the low single digits, from about 25% several weeks ago, for a total of about 6,500 infections, including 63 deaths.
About one-third of the deaths were people who had travelled on a single cruise ship, the Ruby Princess, which is now the subject of several government and police investigations after passengers were allowed to disembark in Sydney without testing last month.
Authorities have said it is still too soon to lift restrictions on movement.
“We will continue to be led by the medical advice and that has served us well,” Frydenberg said. “People should not be complacent, patience is a real virtue.”
Reporting by Byron Kaye; editing by Jane Wardell
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