School absences spike amid coronavirus fears
SCHOOL absences have spiked and the University of Queensland has cancelled all classes for a week as coronavirus continues to spread in Australia. Queensland Teachers Union president Kevin Bates says some parents are making their own decisions despite the federal government ruling schools will remain open.
The government has banned gatherings of 500 people or more but opted not to include schools.
The federal government has expressed concern that school closures would keep health workers away from their jobs.
Mr Bates said half of all Queensland schools have more than 500 pupils, and principals are doing things like cancelling school assemblies to limit physical interaction.
"The best we can do at the moment is follow the advice provided by the experts. It is appropriate that business, as usual, goes on," he told ABC radio on Monday.
But some parents aren't happy with the official advice and have been keeping their kids home since the outbreak began.
"In the early days, some schools on the south side of Brisbane had 500-to-600 students staying home per day. That's a matter for parents to decide." Meanwhile, the University of Queensland has cancelled all tutorials and lectures - in person and online - for the next week.
The university says it needs time to reset and prepare after three students tested positive for coronavirus.
About 600 other students and seven staff have been forced into self-isolation as a result of the virus, and only 40 per cent of the university's Chinese students are in Australia.
Vice-Chancellor Peter Hoj says the university is looking to extend its semester by up to three weeks, to ensure students are not disadvantaged by the week-long cancellation of learning.
"It's for one week. We're not closing the campus, but we are saying to our teachers we think this is going to go on for quite a while," he told ABC radio.
From next week, the university plans to resume classes both online and in-person, but Prof Hoj believes many students will not want to come to the campus and will choose to study online.
He said the university and others of a similar size face enormous losses if the virus crisis rolls on for too long.
"For universities like us, it will run into the hundreds of millions of dollars if this coronavirus situation extends through the majority of this year. "And that will be the same for all universities such as us."