Mask mandates and regular rapid antigen tests are part of COVID-19-safe plans for the start Tuesday of the new school year in Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales. Thousands of daily new coronavirus infections and dozens of deaths are being reported in Australia, but authorities say it is safe for classes to resume.
Schools in Australia were closed for long periods during the first two years of the pandemic.
In New South Wales, children and teachers will be screened for COVID-19 twice a week under a plan to keep schools open. Older students and staff must also wear masks.
State Premier Dominic Perrottet has conceded that there will be “bumps along the way.”
New South Wales Education Minister Sarah Mitchell on Tuesday had this message of support for students on the first day of term.
“It is a hard time, living in the middle of a global pandemic, but we are all here to support you and every single one of those people that I spoke about; your families, your teachers, your principals – we are all doing this to support you and your education. So, good luck for the school year. It is an exciting time, first day, and we cannot wait to see all the amazing things that you achieve in 2022,” Mitchell said.
Similar mask mandates and surveillance testing for COVID-19 apply in the state of Victoria. But the rules vary across the country.
Parents in Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia are not required to regularly test their children, but officials have said that students and staff should not attend school if they are unwell or have coronavirus symptoms.
The start of term in Queensland has been delayed by two weeks to avoid the predicted peak of the omicron wave and to allow more time for students to receive their vaccinations. Classes are scheduled to resume on February 7.
A study published in late January in the Medical Journal of Australia shows how the pandemic has affected children's mental and physical health.
Researchers from the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the University of Melbourne warned that children were facing a "generation-defining disruption" because of lockdowns and school closures over the past two years.
Australia has recorded 2.1 million coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, according to government data. 3,758 people have died.