Victorian premier Dan Andrews says the statewide closure of schools, workplaces, even the shutdown of industries is an “inevitability” as community transmission of the coronavirus makes containment impossible.
Andrews stressed that “we’re not announcing that schools are closing today, we are not cancelling the Grand Prix next week or footy the week after … now’s not the time for those things, but that time will come, and it is appropriate … to be frank with people, to be honest with people. We are going to ask a lot of Victorians.”
Federal education minister Dan Tehan said the trigger for more widespread closures of schools had not yet been reached, “but it does seem very clear now that the idea of containing the virus is getting harder and harder”.
So far two schools in Sydney and two in Melbourne have temporarily closed after students tested positive. Across Australia, 107 people have tested positive for Covid-19, the majority in New South Wales.
Tehan said state and federal governments were coordinating their responses and that the widespread closures of schools, while not yet necessary, might have to be considered.
“We do have to prepare for all contingencies,” he told ABC radio. “If there was to be a next step it is more likely to be localised school closures rather than statewide.”
Tehan said the trigger for larger-scale school closures would be the advice of state and federal health authorities.
“If the medical advice says we need to take extreme measures that is what the government will do but at the moment the medical advice is very clear. What is occurring is schools are temporarily shutting down and that will be the case unless the medical advice says otherwise.”
Speaking to reporters late on Tuesday, Andrews said he wanted to publicly share the details of the government’s planning “not to alarm anybody, but to simply prepare people for what the experts tell us is not an ‘if’ or ‘if not’, it is simply a matter of ‘when’”.
“It is deeply frustrating we can’t give you … the exact timing, but we are told by the experts that we are going to reach a phase where there is such significant transmission of this virus … that we will need to take extreme measures, that we will need to ask Victorians to do things we’ve never asked them to do.”
The disruption would be significant, Andrews said, hurting the state’s economy and inconveniencing “many, many people”. But he said the fewer people who contracted Covid-19, the fewer would be critically ill. The plans being considered by the government were intended to keep people safe, Andrews said.
“Part of that plan is the inevitability that we will get to the point that rather than one school being closed, all of our schools will be closed,” he said.
“Rather than people simply distancing themselves and quarantining themselves, we may have entire sectors, entire workforces where people are working from home.”
Australia’s university sector – significantly dependent on international students, particularly from China – is already being hard hit by coronavirus travel bans and student withdrawals.
The University of Tasmania will cut the number of courses it offers from 514 to fewer than 120, as part of a major overhaul driven in part by an “overreliance on China” and the impact of the coronavirus.
In an extraordinary missive, the university’s vice-chancellor Rufus Black told staff the university was “facing sustained headwinds” and “working against powerful forces” in its efforts to become economically sustainable.
Black said the combination of an “overreliance on China as a market for international education and what is now emerging as a pandemic” had forced the university to re-evaluate its curriculum.
Southern Cross University will close its Lismore campus in northern NSW and its Gold Coast campus in southern Queensland after a visiting staff member from the Philippines tested positive for Covid-19.
The man attended workshops at the two university campuses last week before returning to the Philippines on Saturday. He later became unwell and has since tested positive.
“The university has identified 45 people who came into contact or proximity with the man during his time in Australia. In conjunction with the health authorities, the university is contacting each individual,” Southern Cross said in a statement.