Australia has introduced a ban on non-essential mass gatherings of 500 or more people to control the spread of Covid-19, but has not yet opted for mass school closures.
Several schools in New South Wales and Victoria with confirmed cases of coronavirus have temporarily closed, but the chief physician has not recommended closing them on a large scale.
Why was closure not recommended and are there different views on whether and when this will be necessary?
How did the government explain the lack of school closings?
On Sunday, Scott Morrison said:
[On] The problem of largely closing schools may not be intuitive, but the advice is that this could actually be a very negative thing in terms of the impact on the operation of these curves.
This happens for two reasons. If you take children out of school and bring them back to the wider community, their ability to potentially connect with others increases this risk. And that’s the understanding we have …
The other problem is the impact of disruption, which can jeopardize the availability of critical workers such as nurses and doctors and others who are essential in the community because they need to stay home and take care of their children.
While this may not seem intuitive, there is a very good reason why you would not switch to large-scale school closures that could actually worsen the situation and not improve it. And so the states and territories are not moving in this direction.
Does this position correspond to medical advice?
Yes. At this point in time, the Australian main health protection committee – consisting of the federal government, federal states and territories – had pointed out that essential functions, including schools, universities, jobs and public transport, do not have to stop working.
In a statement, Victorian health chief Brett Sutton said that he “fully endorses the Committee’s advice” that “preventive school closings as a public health intervention to prevent community transmission of Covid are unlikely to be proportionate or effective . ” -19 at this time ”.
There is currently limited information on the contribution of children to the transmission of Covid-19. The WHO-China joint mission highlighted the primary role of household transfer and found that children tend to be infected by adults.
Previous work suggests that the potential reduction in school transmission through preventive school closings can be offset by childcare arrangements for out-of-school children.
There is a particular risk associated with the fact that children may need to be looked after by vulnerable grandparents or may continue to connect (and transmit infections) outside of school.
In general, health advice on school closings due to past respiratory epidemics shows that health costs are often underestimated and benefits are overestimated.
This may be all the more the case with Covid-19, since, in contrast to influenza, the effects on otherwise healthy children have so far been minimal.
Have others kept calling for school closings?
Some have suggested that prevention of transmission should be a priority in all environments, including schools.
Generalist and former AMA President Kerryn Phelps said: “Within a very short time, we have to deal with the closure of schools and universities for a few weeks to limit the transmission.”
Anthony Albanese has found that some private and independent schools have chosen to close but have not requested mass schools to close.
“What I don’t want is that the government is too far behind here,” he told Sky News.
“I can’t see how [school closures] will not happen at some point. However, what we need is that these decisions are essentially recommended by doctors. If they say they will go there, we need transparency. “
What do independent experts say?
Prof. Jonathan Carapetis, a pediatrician and leading infectious disease expert, told Guardian Australia that the medical community’s view was “not that easy,” but everyone agreed that a “balanced discussion” and no jerky response was needed.
The executive director of the Telethon Kids Institute said the argument for school closings is to prevent child-to-child transmission back to their families.
“But the evidence that school closure will have a significant impact on the transmission of the pandemic is not that strong,” he said.
“Children do not seem to be seriously ill, they either get a mild version or show no signs of illness. The first data indicate that they are not significantly involved in the transmission.”
Closing the school “is not the panacea that some people think of,” said Carapetis, referring to the fact that 10 to 20% of the workforce could be fired and that parents and grandparents are at higher health risk.
Carapetis suggested that children are “easier to control” at school because they can be taught hand hygiene and measures such as banning meetings and school carnivals can reduce the risk.
What about herd immunity?
Morrison has noticed that the prospect of herd immunity developing in the UK has increased.
Carapetis said that one way to prevent transmission is to “increase the proportion of the population with some immunity to the disease.”
“Since we know that children don’t get so sick [from Covid-19] It is possible that a higher proportion becomes immune and cannot transmit what is known as herd immunity. “
Carapetis warned, however, that although there is a “good theoretical foundation” for this view, there is no data to support this, and it is only believed that children will become immune after infection. As such, it should be “not a significant factor” for possible school closings.
On Sunday Paul Kelly, the deputy chief physician, said: “And this important problem of herd immunity, which we talk about a lot during vaccinations, is exactly the challenge that we currently have. There is no herd immunity. In Australia, everyone is susceptible to this virus. “
Phelps said it was “pointless to talk about herd immunity … unless you talk about immunization and we don’t have a coronavirus vaccine.”
“If you had a vaccine, you would have as many people vaccinated as possible,” she told Sky News.
“You don’t increase herd immunity by making as many people ill as possible so that they can then transmit the virus to someone who can’t cope with it.”
Will the schools close at some point?
Victorian Prime Minister Daniel Andrews has suggested that school closings are “inevitable”.
Western Australian President of the Australian Medical Association, Andrew Miller, has predicted that widespread school closings will take place in the near future.
“Schools, we need some preparation time, but it will come,” he told ABC. “At some point in the next few weeks, we would expect the government to look at this closely.
“I suspect that schools will not return after the holidays.”
Sutton noted that preventive school closings had to be “extended” to be effective, and it was unclear when they would reopen.
Sutton has suggested that “school closures can still be considered late in the outbreak to expect peak infection rates for a shorter period of time.”