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Remote learning may be necessary once the school term starts later this month, the national teachers’ union says, with staff and parents “deeply concerned” at the prospect amid the flood of Omicron cases.
This comes as GPs report issues with patchy supply of vaccines for children ahead of Monday’s rollout of jabs for five- to 11-year-olds.
Remote learning may be necessary once the school term starts later this month.Credit:iStock
Urging haste on a national return-to-school plan, Australian Education Union federal president Correna Haythorpe warned that, if large numbers of teachers and students become resigned to home isolation due to COVID-19, schools may have no choice but to shut their doors periodically.
“If you can’t provide supervision and duty of care, governments will have to consider how particular schools pivot to remote learning,” Ms Haythorpe told The Sun-Herald.
No primary school student will be fully vaccinated by the time NSW starts welcoming students back to the classroom in late January because appointments for children aged five to 11 open on Monday and there will be an eight-week gap between doses.
While the federal government insists there is enough supply for every student to get their first jab before school returns, parents have been scrambling to lock in appointments.
Some parents have reported having bookings cancelled at the last minute by GPs because the doses have not arrived.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners president Karen Price said a lot of GPs were not booking in patients until they got the vaccine in their fridges.
“There’s certainly bigger demand than capacity,” Dr Price said. “There’s nothing worse than promising people something and then you take it away, so doctors would rather wait and make sure it’s in their fridge and then manage that demand.”
NSW AMA president Danielle McMullen said GPs were expecting the delivery of vaccines on Thursday or Friday last week.
“Some practices did get them earlier in the week, but a number of practices just didn’t get a delivery. No notification. Just nothing came, which obviously throws it all into a tailspin,” Dr McMullen said.
“There’ll be a lot of frustrated parents and kids out there, and also a lot of exasperated practices that are now having to re-book people and find new times for vaccine clinics.
“We don’t know when we’ll get the vaccines in, and it’s pretty stressful for everyone.”
A spokesperson for the federal Health Department said the entire nation’s supply chain was under pressure, with 15 to 20 per cent of the workforce affected by COVID, but insisted that doses were being delivered on schedule.
NSW students missed more than a term of face-to-face learning last year, and seven weeks the year before.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week said national cabinet would develop a framework to ensure students were at school on day one, term one.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet last week said he was “incredibly confident” school students would be able to return to the classroom on the first day of term.
However, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced on Friday that the state’s term could be delayed by up two weeks if COVID-19 case numbers continued to surge in order to give more students time to get vaccinated.
Ms Haythorpe said teachers and school staff welcomed that move, with multiple pressure points regarding safety and how to respond to large outbreaks still to be ironed out.
She said the union, which had not yet been consulted, wanted clarity on infrastructure such as ventilation and space for social distancing, how staffing shortages would be managed and a testing strategy.
“Many children will be unvaccinated when term begins and then for the first two months it will be, at best, first-dose protection,” Ms Haythorpe said.
“Schools have the potential to be superspreader environments. If teachers feel they need to do a rapid antigen test every day then they should be able to.”
Childcare centres have already experienced the impact of soaring cases: 439 were shut across the country on Friday, including 322 in NSW and 48 in Victoria.
Hospitalisations of US children under five with COVID-19 soared in recent weeks to their highest level since the pandemic began.
Since mid-December, with the highly contagious Omicron variant spreading furiously around the country, the hospitalisation rate in these youngest children has surged to more than four in 100,000, up from 2.5 per 100,000, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said.
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