Concerned members of Sydney’s Chinese community are begging the NSW Government to bar students who may have been infected with coronavirus from returning to classes.
- One of the petitions called for students who travelled to China in the holidays to be quarantined
- NSW Health debunked social media posts about contaminated foods in popular Asian snacks
- The City of Ryde has postponed its Lunar New Year celebrations due to health concerns
Two online petitions asking the Government to quarantine pupils who visited China during the school holidays have gathered thousands of signatures and are being circulated on social media platform WeChat.
Some Chinese-Australian parents have labelled the Federal and NSW Government’s response to the outbreak as inadequate and called for airline passengers arriving from China to be isolated for two weeks.
The petition also comes as a Sydney council announced it would be delaying Lunar New Year celebrations in light of the virus outbreak.
Some private schools in Sydney have already contacted parents saying children who have been to China would need a doctor’s certificate before returning to classes.
Coronavirus has killed 106 people and infected 4,000 globally — four of Australia’s five confirmed cases are in NSW.
NSW Health today said it was investigating six possible coronavirus cases.
The main petition already has more than 17,000 signatures, and calls for students to be isolated at home for two weeks prior to returning to school.
“The fact that a vast amount of Chinese residents are returning to Australia prior to school start next week is highly concerning to all the children and staff amongst all Australian schools,” the blurb on the Change.org petition read.
Another petition which has attracted more than 2,100 signatures has singled out Hurstville Public School in south Sydney.
As well as calling for the school term to be delayed, it said the NSW Department of Education should provide face masks and hand sanitiser for teachers and students.
The petition’s organiser Gemma Liu claimed at least 90 per cent of the school’s students had a “strong Chinese ethnic” background.
The State Government confirmed students who had been in contact with a person confirmed as having coronavirus must not attend school or childcare for 14 days after the last contact with the infected person.
It said students who had travelled to Hubei Province, including Wuhan, during the school holidays could return to school, but that they should be monitored for symptoms.
Panic and misinformation on social media
One of the petitions circulating on WeChat was shared with a message saying Australian schools weren’t taking the virus seriously.
“The Chairman [Xi Jinping] has warned the Chinese that the disease would spread faster,” it said.
“I only have two daughters. I can’t take the risk to lose them.”
Ronnie Wang, from Sydney-based network Asian Women at Work, said she had been inundated with phone calls and social media posts from worried families.
“There is a lot of information on WeChat because parents are very, very concerned, especially [about] those who are contagious but not showing symptoms,” she said.
Amid the virus panic, misinformation about how the disease has contaminated popular Asian foods and snacks has been shared on social media, including by Sydney childcare centres.
A post falsely claimed fortune cookies, wagyu beef, mi goreng noodles and Lipton peach iced tea had traces of the virus and that the “Bureau of Diseasology Parramatta” had found positive cases of the virus at Sydney train stations.
“There is no such entity as the ‘Department of Diseasology Parramatta’,” a NSW Health spokesperson said.
“And there have been no ‘positive readings’ at train stations.”
On Monday, three private schools — The Scots College, Kambala School and Newington College — contacted parents and asked them to make sure their children had been cleared by a doctor before returning to school if they had been to China.
Scots College said it also cancelled the Chinese New Year celebrations scheduled for January 31 “as a precautionary measure”.
“For public schools they are not telling students to stay home,” Ms Wang said.
“Many people feel the response from the Federal and NSW Government has been too weak, and more measures are need to stop the spread of the virus.”
Ms Wang said parts of the Chinese community in Sydney even want all airline passengers arriving from China isolated for a fortnight.
The fears around the virus spreading have also caused the City of Ryde to delay its Lunar New Year celebrations which were scheduled to be held on February 8.
In Melbourne, the Xin Jin Shan Chinese Language and Culture School postponed the start of the school year due to concerns about the outbreak.
More on the coronavirus outbreak: