Australia ‘Worse' than lockdown: Hundreds of students at Sydney schools isolating after COVID-19 exposures

10:51  17 november  2021
10:51  17 november  2021 Source:   smh.com.au

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Hundreds of eastern suburbs students are in self-isolation after multiple cases across three public schools, with almost half the children at Bondi Public in quarantine and students at Randwick sent home twice in two weeks.

In an email to parents on Tuesday night, Bondi Public School said about 250 students have been required to isolate, after confirming the first positive case in a "member of the school community" on November 13. Cases have also been identified at Rose Bay Public in the past fortnight, at least one of those on Saturday when a member of the school community tested positive.

It comes as parents of some year 3 students at Randwick Public were notified on Wednesday of another case, two weeks after the first notification. This time, the school remained open. "We still don't know how many cases there were from the first time," said a parent.

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About 575 schools and childcare centres in NSW have closed due to coronavirus cases in the past month, promoting parents and paediatricians to call for the use of rapid antigen tests to keep contacts at school rather than send them into quarantine.

"We have had some staff working 16-hour days throughout this contact tracing ordeal to reach outcomes for our students in the timeliest manner possible," the email from Bondi Public School to parents said.

"When additional cases are identified, the tracing process is worked through again. With whole classes affected, teachers plus students who attended [after-school care] ... the process has been complex. I can assure you that staff couldn't have worked harder or faster."

Fifteen schools in NSW are closed due to COVID-19, with about half of those in the Sydney metropolitan area.

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Amid concern about the delay between a student's family reporting a positive case to the school, and the school community being officially informed - which has been up to 48 hours in some cases - principals have now been told they no longer have to wait to have the test results verified by NSW Health.

"This should assist in speeding up education's response to cases where a person who has a positive test from a testing clinic has been infectious on school grounds," a memo to principals said.

"However, it is critical that you obtain accurate information from the person reporting the case to you."

The Labor MP for Coogee, Marjorie O'Neill estimated there were more than 400 students in quarantine across the three schools. She criticised the lack of detail and clarity from the departments of health and education.

"When you have an absence of information, it's fuelling anxiety and stress," she said.

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A parent at Bondi Public, who spoke to the Herald on the condition of anonymity, said it had been "very stressful ... and [there's been] a fair bit of anger because of the lengthy process involved in contact tracing and disclosing of cases means there is a risk more people are exposed.

"Our kids are stuck in their homes again after just trying to get into a routine in school. The concern is this is going to keep happening, and we will just be in and out of lockdown until kids can get vaccinated. This is like lockdown but worse because the kids can't go outside."

In the border town of Albury, the Department of Education and NSW Health has run a pilot rapid antigen testing scheme to reduce quarantine from 14 to seven days for unvaccinated students if the child returns a negative test every day in the second week.

The Department of Education confirmed the trial has been expanded to other schools including Queanbeyan West Public, The Lakes Christian College in Castlereagh, William Stimson Public and Henschke Primary School. It also plans to broaden the program to Moonbi and Epping West public schools.

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Ms O'Neill said the tests should be provided to all schools dealing with COVID-19 cases "as soon as possible".

Doherty Institute modelling has found that both screening in high-risk zones and rapid testing close contacts of a positive case each day for seven days before school works just as well as quarantining for managing outbreaks.

Under this system, they would miss no school unless they returned a positive result.

Under the rules, vaccinated close contacts of a positive case who have returned a negative test on day six can generally return to on-site learning after leaving isolation on day seven. However, unvaccinated children who are marked as close contacts may still need to isolate for two weeks.

NSW recorded 231 new cases on Wednesday, with the majority from Sydney's south-west and the Hunter New England area.

More than 94 per cent of people aged 16 and old have had one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 91.3 per cent of people have been double-dossed.

There are 207 people in hospital, of whom 33 are in ICU.

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usr: 3
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