23 March 2020

Barr calls urgent halt to all non-essential travel to protect region, schools to go pupil free

| Genevieve Jacobs
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Chief Minister Andrew Barr

Auslan interpreter Mandy Dolesji and Chief Minister Andrew Barr at today’s press conference. Photo: Supplied.

The COVID-19 crisis is moving to a new stage in the ACT as the Chief Minister has urged Canberrans to halt all non-essential travel. And from Tuesday, the Territory’s schools will be pupil free until the school holidays following a positive COVID-19 test at Lyneham High.

This brings the total number of ACT coronavirus cases to 20.

As a precautionary approach, the Education Directorate will shut Lyneham High only on Monday for contract tracing and cleaning.

“The situation is moving very fast in the ACT”, Minister Berry said late this afternoon. “On Tuesday all ACT schools will be pupil free. No student will come to school.

“Schools will still be operational, but teachers and school staff will be preparing for a different kind of learning.

“We also acknowledge that the school community and teachers are more and more anxious, making it difficult to offer quality education in person. From Tuesday, teachers and school staff will move towards online education”.

Ms Berry said more information regarding schools would be available tomorrow and that the Education directorate, school principals, P&C organisations and the Education Union would work together to get all information to students and parents.

“There is no greater priority than for us to work together to slow the spread of COVID-19”, Mr Barr said today, following the announcement that the ACT’s confirmed cases of the virus had more than doubled.

Mr Barr said that the only travel should be for work, compassionate reasons and to ensure essential supplies and services. “If you travel here for work or essential services you are a part of the Canberra region”, he said, referring to the “thousands and thousands” of people who cross the border for work, education and business purposes each day.

But a common-sense attitude must pertain to any travel outside the region including trips down the coast for school holidays, to visit family or to Sydney.

While both South Australia and Western Australia have now closed their borders, this is not a feasible step for the ACT and Mr Barr said the Territory would act in close alignment with NSW. It’s expected that this evening’s National Cabinet will discuss how to increase quarantine and social distancing measures.

“The ACT cannot close our borders but we can protect our region”, Mr Barr said, adding that anyone who failed to self isolate if they had returned from overseas travel or were waiting for test results was breaking the law and would put the community at risk.

“We have to take a Canberra region approach and work with surrounding local government and the NSW government. The Canberra region response needs to be uniform across the border. We can’t have different responses in Queanbeyan and Canberra.

“Sydney is a particular concern, Queanbeyan less so when it comes to interaction across the border in NSW”.

People should expect “more and more tough and stringent rules in the days and weeks ahead”. The ACT government is compiling a list of places where people are likely to gather and will shut them down if necessary, or ask the Commonwealth to do so if they are on Commonwealth land.

“This situation is rapidly moving, decisions will need to be taken quickly”, Mr Barr said.

Earlier this afternoon, Education Minister Yvette Berry had acknowledged the efforts of all school staff and communities including teachers, cleaners and ancillary staff for the work they have done in keeping the ACT’s schools “calm confident and happy” as the COVID crisis unfolds.

“Schools are already conducting online learning through mathematics and reading eggs and these can be continued at home online”, Ms Berry said. “The ACT school system is ready and prepared to transition to an alternate teaching method should the decision be made.

“We are well placed for that shift, and we have invested significantly in devices across the school system to ensure we have that digital capability”.

Ms Berry said the Education Directorate was also working closely with independent schools and the Catholic school system to ensure that outcomes aligned.

All school principals will be participating in teleconferencing to ensure this and Mr Barr said that the ACT was not holding back regarding school closures but participating in a national decision. Consideration is also being given to special measures for the children of health care workers.

“In the weeks and months ahead, I cannot stress enough the seriousness of the situation for our country, for our city”, Mr Barr said.

Every decision at every level of government would be painful and would have an impact on the city’s way of life. But Mr Barr said all Canberrans needed to act together as a community.

“Take physical distancing measures seriously. Don’t be close unnecessarily. Avoid all non-essential travel. Wash hands regularly and often, or the consequences will be dire.

“This is an unprecedented situation. We must now all act together to ensure that we stop and slow the spread of this virus. I cannot stress how important it is that people adhere to these arrangements”.

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23 March 2020 4.40pm

Pupil free days from 24 March 2020 until school holidays

The ACT Minister for Education and Early Childhood announced that from Tuesday 24 March 2020 all ACT Public Schools will go pupil free until the school holidays, due to begin on Friday 10 April 2020.

ACT schools will remain open to students who need to attend. Schools will still be able to safely receive and provide learning for parents and carers engaged in essential services and unable to care for their children at home, as well as vulnerable children and those with additional needs. Essential service includes health workers, education workers, aged care workers and critical public service workers.

No child will be turned away.
More here:
https://www.education.act.gov.au/about-us/all-news-and-news-alerts/news-items/march-2020/act-public-schools-pupil-free-from-tuesday-24-march-to-school-holidays

What a great idea that was spending all that money on the tram rather than prioritising improvements to Canberra Hospital. Not!

It is impossible to be right in advance of disasters.
But, to go ahead with a ‘we hate cars’ investment, opposed b y the Productivity Commisssion when our public hospital system was already in crisis over delays, seems to me, a piece of unforgivable arrogance, by the Greens, and by Labour. Its effects on the public hospital system have been apparent for a good while, and Covid19 will ram the point home. More broadly, interconnection / interdependence will, at last, be seen as the serious risk factor that it has always been.
Tim Bailey

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