Tasmanian schools have been asked to cancel assemblies, excursions and travel plans as part of precautionary measures put in place to stop the spread of coronavirus.
- Students will be allowed a single visit to retrieve learning materials from the school
- The Tasmanian Government says other schools would stay open
- The Southern Primary Interschool Athletics carnivals has been cancelled
Following advice from health officials, the Tasmanian Government has asked schools to adopt the social distancing measures as a precaution to reduce potential exposure to coronavirus.
School camps, fetes, parent-teacher meetings, sports carnivals and other non-essential school activities will be required to be postponed, with the restrictions in place until further notice.
The precautionary measures also extend to fairs, concerts with audiences and presentation nights.
In a statement, the Tasmanian Government said it had been advised the closure of schools was currently not required, however it will continue to take advice from Public Health as the situation continues to evolve.
Scotch Oakburn College moves to online learning
The new advice comes as an independent private college in Launceston became Tasmania’s first school to suspend school attendance over coronavirus fears.
In an email sent to parents late on Sunday, Scotch Oakburn College advised that no students would attend school from tomorrow, March 16, until March 27.
Students will be allowed a single visit to retrieve learning materials from the school either tomorrow or Tuesday before classes resume online.
Staff at the college will take the next two days to plan the transition to online learning, with classes to begin rolling out online from Wednesday.
The college elected to transition to learning online after its board of directors met on Sunday, saying it would review its decision after the two week period ended.
In the email, principal Andy Muller said he recognised the decision may cause disruptions for some families, but the college was focused on the health and wellbeing of its community.
“It is hoped that families can work together to support each other during this unprecedented situation,” Mr Muller wrote.
Cruise ship visits suspended
Earlier on Sunday, Premier Peter Gutwein announced a range of measures to address Tasmania’s response to the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
Mr Gutwein also said he had “formed the view as of today we will direct TasPorts to suspend all cruise ship visits to our ports until the 30th of June” — a move that preceded Sunday afternoon’s announcement by Prime Minister Scott Morrison that anyone arriving in Australia from overseas will to be forced to self-isolate for 14 days.
Mr Gutwein’s announcement comes after the operator of the cruise ship MSC Magnifica said no passengers could disembark in Hobart on Saturday, due to concerns they may return to the ship after being exposed to coronavirus.
Another cruise ship, the Sea Princess, enforced no such ruling, allowing passengers to disembark after docking yesterday.
Mr Gutwein said, “We could have 2,500 people disembark into Hobart and decide that they don’t want to get back on a cruise ship.”
“That would put significant strain on our own local resources both in terms of housing and our hospitals.”
On their website, TasPorts said 230,000 visitors were expected in Tasmania during this year’s cruise ship season.
School sports event cancelled, but normal classes continue
On Sunday afternoon, the Tasmanian Government announced the Southern Primary Interschool Athletics carnivals had been cancelled.
“The interschool events are due to commence tomorrow … but due to the large number of competitors and spectators these events attract, the best option is to cancel,” a statement said.
“We understand that there will be some disappointed athletes but the protection of students and those vulnerable members of our community is a priority at this time.”
The Government said even though the event had been cancelled, school would continue and there was no need to keep children home unless:
- They were unwell
- They had been in close contact with someone known to currently have the virus and been told by Public Health Services to stay in home isolation
- They had left (or transited through) mainland China (not including Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan), Iran, Italy or South Korea in the past 14 days.
Doctor-turned-Labor candidate says ‘I’m keeping my kids home’
Opposition Leader Rebecca White said the Government had failed to provide the public with the information it needed.
“Right now, the Government’s failed to provide a mass media campaign,” she said.
“It’s been really ad hoc with respect to the information that is being delivered to the community and I’m worried that our key stakeholders in the medical fraternity don’t even have the information they need.”
Ms White said she would support the Government if it decided to shut schools down.
General practitioner and Labor candidate for the seat of Huon, Bastian Seidel, said schools and universities should already be closed.
“I have two children, they are one-and-a-half and three-and-a-half, they are staying at home,” he said.
“I can’t put them at risk, they are innocent children. And I can’t put the community at risk either.”
The Greens also voiced concerns about the Government’s messaging.
Mr Gutwein said the situation on closures could change as new information was received — and that he was prepared to introduce bans on travel “in a heartbeat”, if advised.
Spirit of Tasmania not affected, for now
Mr Gutwein said the Spirit of Tasmania ferry service between Devonport and Melbourne was “effectively a form of transport between the states” and would continue to operate.
“I won’t be shutting our border, but what I will be doing is ensuring we manage it to provide a more robust protection for Tasmanians.”
Mr Gutwein said he would not be banning flights into the state, but would be considering “other measures we can look at that would ensure that we manage the flow of passengers [into Tasmania]”.
He said he had heard the community’s concerns over school closures.
“At this stage, there is no advice in front of me that suggests that we should take that step, but obviously … if and when we need to close a school based on advice, we will do so.
“Our advice is that there is a very low risk for Tasmanians, in terms of any school that has concerns or challenges, we will work with them on an individual basis.”
Anyone in Tasmania with concerns or further questions can call the helpline on 1800 671 738 or visit the coronavirus information website.