Only two schoolchildren in NSW caught coronavirus from 18 infected classmates and teachers, a study has found.
All 863 staff and students who came into close contact with the nine staff and nine children were tested for the deadly disease and only two were positive.
Schools across the state will gradually reintroduce face-to-face teaching from May 11, despite a revolt by teachers’ unions in NSW and elsewhere.
Despite teachers’ fears that bringing children back into classrooms will put them at risk, new research found not a single one has caught coronavirus from a student.
The National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance probe investigated all 18 coronavirus cases in 15 NSW schools between early March and mid-April.
These graphics show the teachers and students each of the nine students and nine teachers came into contact with and whether they contracted coronavirus as a result
Researchers tracked down all their close contacts – 735 students and 128 teachers – of the nine teachers and nine kids who were infected with COVID-19.
A ‘close contact’ is defined as a person who has been in face-to-face contact for at least 15 minutes or in the same room for two hours with a case while infectious.
In schools these contacts were usually students and teachers in the same classes or extracurricular activities, or those within a child’s close circle of friends.
Only two of these 863 people, one primary and one high school student, caught the disease and neither of them transmitted the virus to anyone else.
Not a single teacher in the whole state was found to be infected by a student, but one of the sick teachers infected a student.
One of the students tested positive to a standard coronavirus test and an antibody test found the other caught it four weeks earlier and had recovered.
A review found it was most likely both children caught the virus at school and not from another source.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants schools return to normal as soon as possible, with all but Victoria trending in that direction
The researchers noted that half the cases were staff, despite there being far fewer of them, which was further proof children were less susceptible.
School-aged children make up just 1.7 per cent of cases in all of NSW, despite being 16 per cent of the whole population
NCIRS Professor Kristine Macartney said the findings showed there was a low rate of coronavirus transmission within schools and between children.
COVID-19 in schools study: NSW breakdown
What the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance study found:
– Eighteen students and staff from 15 NSW schools were from March 5 to April 21, 2020 diagnosed with coronavirus
– Nine were students and nine were staff members
– Those 18 people had a total of 863 close contacts within school over that time period
– Of the 863 close contacts, just two people caught coronavirus
– Those two people – both students – did not pass the disease on to others
– No ill students passed on the coronavirus to school staff members
– The spread of coronavirus within NSW schools has thus been ‘very limited’ and the virus’ transmission in children in NSW schools is less than that of influenza.
‘I hope it provides strong reassurance of the safety of a return to school. At the beginning of the pandemic, it has been quite surprising,’ she said.
‘Our report really fits well with evidence from other countries, China, the very first report from the WHO, Iceland, the Netherlands, all consistently showing children have very low rates of infection and get mild disease… it’s behaving very differently to other viruses.’
Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants schools return to normal as soon as possible, with all but Victoria trending in that direction.
He on Saturday said the risk for teachers was ‘not in the classroom; their risk is in the staffroom’.
‘I mean, we’ve got people who are going to work in supermarkets every day,’ Mr Morrison told Sky News.
‘We’ve got people who are doing jobs all over the community, driving buses, and they’re doing great work and they’re turning up to work to do those things.’
The NCIRS study noted ‘prolonged school closures can have negative consequences for the community and for children’.
However, teachers’ unions are largely opposed to the plan, and advocated closing schools far earlier despite Australia’s top doctors advising they were safe.
The State School Teachers’ Union of Western Australia even went so far as to buy a full-page newspaper ad urging parents to keep their children home if possible.
In Victoria, whose premier Daniel Andrews closed schools before any other state directly against Mr Morrison’s advice, the union went on the offensive.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian greets students during a visit to Prestons Public School in Sydney. She is keen for classes to look like this again next month
Australian Education Union Victorian president Meredith Peace on Saturday accused the PM of teglecting the safety of teachers.
‘It is bizarre that the Prime Minister has been telling us for six weeks how important social distancing is but today he has basically said that it no longer matters for students or teachers,’ she said.
‘Throughout this pandemic we’ve been worried that many seem to be neglecting the health and safety of teachers, and these comments only reinforce that.
‘While we’re as keen as anyone to return to normal life, including a return to school, we must plan that return carefully to ensure the safety of both staff and students.’
NSW will from May 11 reintroduce face-to-face teaching for students on one day per week, ramping up to full attendance by the start of term three in late July.
A quarter of children will rotate through the school week one day at a time so that no more than a quarter of a school cohort will be on campus at any one time.
The health advice says appropriate workplace safety measures should be taken to protect teachers, including cleaning door handles, desks, computers, hand-rails and playground equipment several times a day.
States have been divided over arrangements to reopen schools for term two. A sign is pictured outside St Kilda Primary school notifying of limited access under remote learning restrictions on April 15, 2020
NSW Teachers Federation president Angelo Gavrielatos said the plan was an ‘incomprehensible’ on the ’beggars belief’.
‘Trying to timetable 25 per cent of our kids one day a week, at staggered times, with staggered lunches and staggered recesses, we can’t see how that can work,’ he told Today.
He claimed the plan was ’contributing significantly to the stress levels of our teachers and principals’.
NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said the NCIRS report showed it was safe for children to return to the classroom as the government planned.
‘We know that COVID-19 has created some anxiety for parents, teachers and school staff, however the findings in this report confirm existing health advice that schools remain open and are safe for students to return,’ she said.
‘Teachers have shown great innovation in adapting to the uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought, but nothing replaces the experience of learning in a classroom.’
A sign out the front of at Cobar Public School, NSW, on April 18 telling parents to refer to their website for information on sending children to school prior to the announcement
NSW Department of Education secretary Mark Scott on Sunday said social distancing behaviour would still be required between teachers and parents.
He said slowly ramping up the number of children in class would help parents build confidence about their children’s safety on campus.
‘What we’re saying particularly to our school principals and leadership teams is, think about how your staff are deployed, how your staffrooms operate, how you hold meetings … think carefully about how socially distancing best applies,’ he said.
‘We do want to provide that reassurance there will be space in schools and ensure there are not crowds congregating at the school gate, not having parents at the school.’
NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant said that as of Sunday, 52 cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in kids aged five to 17, with only three hospitalised.
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