Send your kids to school, they’re safe there – that’s the message to parents from Education Minister Chris Hipkins.
But in the effort to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus, parents should consider making other arrangements for the school holidays if they had planned for their children to stay with grandparents.
Hipkins said there was currently no scientific reason for schools and universities to close, despite the Government yesterday banning gatherings of more than 500 people in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
That’s because there’s not been a community outbreak and the transmission rate among young people is shown to be very low internationally, Hipkins told media this morning.
“My message to parents is send your kinds to school. School at the moment is a very, very safe place for them for to be.
“If that changes, of course our advice will change. But at the moment there are no community outbreaks in New Zealand – schools are a safe place, early childhood centres are a safe place.”
Hipkins said the Government had sent “very clear advice” to early childhood centres, schools, universities and other learning institutions about minimising risk.
Included in that advice was asking schools to consider their practices like large assemblies and whether they could be done in smaller groups, he said.
The minister was also aware that some universities were looking at numbering seats in lectures to make contact tracing easier if they happened to have a confirmed case.
The Government was looking at online learning resources that are available and ensuring they’re robust and available to everyone should they be needed, Hipkins said.
“But at the moment, we’re a long, long way away from that though.”
Many universities already put their lectures online and others are looking at how they could utilise that further, Hipkins said.
Yesterday, the Herald revealed the Ministry of Education was ringing all schools to find out whether they could cope with teaching online if they have to close their buildings due to coronavirus.
The ministry also advised schools to keep students at least 1.5 metres apart at assemblies, and to reconsider school camps unless they have the ability to isolate any student who becomes ill and ensure they have “personal protective equipment and the ability to clean hard surfaces”.
Looking ahead to the school holidays, which are set to start on April 9, Hipkins said it was still too early for a decision about whether they should be moved.
But obviously it would be preferable for parents to make arrangements for children not to go stay with their grandparents, he said.
It was also still too early to talk about exams which take place in the second half of the year, but contingency planning was taking place in case of a widespread community outbreak, Hipkins said.