Covid-19 coronavirus: Auckland schools advised to close immediately

The Principals’ Federation is advising all schools in Auckland to close immediately rather than waiting until the official start of level 3 restrictions at midday tomorrow.

Federation president Perry Rush said schools are still waiting to hear from the Ministry of Education, but most schools were already contacting parents to ask them to keep children at home.

“From talking with colleagues this evening, the expectation in Auckland is for closure, obviously,” he said.

“There is some question about whether that is only from midday, but I think while we are waiting for this information, the vast majority of principals are coalescing around not opening from tomorrow.”

The Government’s Covid-19 website says: “Schools in Auckland can safely open but will have limited capacity. Where possible we encourage students to learn from home.”

Rush said schools stayed open for children of essential workers the last time the country was in level 3, but there had been no word from officials yet about whether that was needed this time.

The Principals’ Federation is advising all schools in Auckland to close immediately. Photo / Getty Images

“I think most principals would expect all staff to be there tomorrow and provision will be made for students if they turn up,” he said.

He said all schools would stay open as normal in all regions outside Auckland.

Secondary principals are attending their annual conference in Rotorua this week, but Rush said the conference has now been suspended and all principals are returning to their homes.

Auckland Primary Principals Association president Stephen Lethbridge says Auckland schools will be back into “bubble school” mode for the next three days, keeping children in separated groups of 10.

Lethbridge said that meant schools would bring back small “bubbles” of children in separated classrooms and playing spaces for families of essential workers.

“It’s bubble school again, and schools will roll out accordingly what they were doing with online and remote learning as they used to last time,” he said.

He asked parents to give teachers a day to get everything sorted before expecting Zoom calls and online work to be assigned.

“We are talking to our parents and saying, hey, look, we have got to get the school back to effectively bubbles again and we have a very short time window to be able to do that,” he said.

“We have got a flexible online learning portal, so there is still information on there that is online. We will be talking to our parents about making contact in Thursday or Friday of this week.

“We will have all hands on deck tomorrow [Wednesday] making sure we have the physical spaces for the essential workers’ children sorted.”

Lethbridge, who is principal of Pt Chevalier School, said he had asked his staff to come in for the morning but only those needed to look after the children of essential workers would need to stay after the bubble spaces were set up again.

“If any of our staff are immuno-compromised or if any of our staff are caring for children, we would be advising them to be in contact if they are not coming in,” he said.

He said schools’ online learning plans would depend on how long the level 3 restrictions remained.

“While we have been told that it’s only until Friday, we can expect that school leaders will be hoping for the best but preparing for the worst,” he said.

“We have been here before. We have got procedures and policies in place. We know what we are doing. The biggest thing that is going to get us through this little hurdle is once again going to be our communities and relying on that understanding, that kindness and that sense of community to get us over this.”

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has asked schools across the region from Wellsford to Pukekohe to close “as of tomorrow morning except for the children of essential service workers”.

A spokesman for Education Minister Chris Hipkins noted Ardern said schools should close “as of tomorrow morning” – not from midday when the broader level 3 restrictions start.

“All schools and child care facilities in Auckland are closed as of tomorrow morning except for the children of essential service workers,” Ardern said.

Early Childhood Council chief executive Peter Reynolds said he was still trying to get clarification from the Government on whether early childhood services should close immediately or from midday tomorrow.

Told that Hipkins’ office advised that they should close “as of tomorrow morning”, he said that would create “challenges” for staff to contact parents in time.

“Because there are confused messages out there at the moment, it’s a bit unfortunate,” he said.

“We understand the motivation behind it, obviously, but we will be asking to get further information from the Ministry of Education around a range of issues.”

Reynolds said the Auckland lockdown would have an effect on the whole country.

“It will create a level of concern across the country,” he said. “There will be a number of parents that will withdraw their children just to make sure that they stay safe. We have seen that behaviour before.”

He said Auckland early childhood services would be free to remain open for children of essential workers, but if there was not enough demand for them to stay open they would close.

“Our advice will be to make it very clear that if they don’t open, to make sure their staff are working from home,” he said.

Reynolds said it was unclear whether insurance companies will pay out on business interruption insurance for early childhood centres that have such insurance.

“The insurance companies advised everybody that they would be changing that clause in the agreements – that while business interruption for pandemics would be covered, things like Covid would be excluded,” he said.

READ MORE: Auckland in lockdown, rest of country in level 2 – Four cases of community transmission

“They were sort of saying because we paid out for it once, we are not going to do it again.

“We are not sure because this is sort of an extension of the same event.”

Secondary Principals Association president Deidre Shea said any students who turn up at schools tomorrow morning because they did not know about the lockdown would be allowed to stay while their parents were contacted.

“I don’t think anyone will send children home,” she said.

“But we are all sending communications out as I’m speaking to you. Families will receive it because communications tend to travel pretty well these days.”

Previous rules for alert levels

Alert Level 4 — Lockdown

Likely that the disease is not contained and community transmission is occurring.

• Range of measures that can be applied locally or nationally

• People instructed to stay at home in their bubble other than for essential personal movement.

• Safe recreational activity is allowed in the local area.

• Travel is severely limited.

• All gatherings cancelled and all public venues closed.

• Businesses closed except for essential services, such as supermarkets, pharmacies, clinics, petrol stations and lifeline utilities.

• Educational facilities closed.

• Rationing of supplies and requisitioning of facilities possible.

• Reprioritisation of healthcare services.

Alert Level 3 — Restrict

Community transmission might be happening.

• Range of measures that can be applied locally or nationally.

• People instructed to stay home in their bubble other than for essential personal movement — including to go to work, school if they have to or for local recreation.

• Physical distancing of 2 metres outside home including on public transport, or 1 metre in controlled environments like schools and workplaces.

• Bubbles must stay within their immediate household bubble but can expand this to reconnect with close family/whānau, or bring in caregivers or support isolated people. This extended bubble should remain exclusive.

• People must work from home unless that is not possible.

• Businesses can open premises, but cannot physically interact with customers.

• Low-risk local recreation activities are allowed.

• Public venues are closed. This includes libraries, museums, cinemas, food courts, gyms, pools, playgrounds, markets.

• Gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed but only for wedding services, funerals and tangihanga. Physical distancing and public health measures must be maintained.

• Healthcare services use virtual, non-contact consultations where possible.

• Inter-regional travel is highly limited to, for example, essential workers, with limited exemptions for others.

• People at high risk of severe illness such as older people and those with existing medical conditions are encouraged to stay at home where possible, and take additional precautions when leaving home. They may choose to work.

Alert Level 2 — Reduce

The disease is contained, but the risk of community transmission remains. Risk assessment. Household transmission could be occurring. Single or isolated cluster outbreaks.

• People can reconnect with friends and family, and socialise in groups of up to 100, go shopping or travel domestically if following public health guidance.

• Keep physical distancing of 2 metres from people you don’t know when out in public or in retail stores. Keep 1 metre physical distancing in controlled environments like workplaces, where practical.

• No more than 100 people at gatherings, including weddings, birthdays, funerals and tangihanga.

• Businesses can open to the public if following public health guidance including physical distancing and record keeping. Alternative ways of working are encouraged where possible.

• Hospitality businesses must keep groups of customers separated, seated and served by a single person.

• Maximum of 100 people at a time in a defined space.

• Sport and recreation activities are allowed, subject to conditions on gatherings, record keeping, and physical distancing where practical.

• Public venues such as museums, libraries and pools can open if they comply with public health measures and ensure 1 metre physical distancing and record keeping.

• Event facilities, including cinemas, stadiums, concert venues and casinos can have more than 100 people at a time, provided there are no more than 100 in a defined space, and the groups do not mix.

• Health and disability care services operate as normally as possible.

• It is safe to send your children to schools, early learning services and tertiary education. There will be appropriate measures in place.

• People at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, for example those with underlying medical conditions, especially if not well-controlled, and older people, are encouraged to take additional precautions when leaving home. They may work if they agree with their employer that they can do so safely.

Alert Level 1 — Prepare

The disease is contained in New Zealand. COVID-19 is uncontrolled overseas.

• Isolated household transmission could be occurring in New Zealand.

• Range of measures that can be applied locally or nationally

• Border entry measures to minimise risk of importing COVID-19 cases.

• Intensive testing for COVID-19.

• Rapid contact tracing of any positive case.

• Self-isolation and quarantine required.

• Schools and workplaces open, and must operate safely.

• No restrictions on personal movement but people are encouraged to maintain a record of where they have been.

• No restrictions on gatherings but organisers encouraged to maintain records to enable contact tracing.

• Stay home if you’re sick, report flu-like symptoms.

• Wash and dry your hands, cough into your elbow, don’t touch your face.

• No restrictions on domestic transport — avoid public transport or travel if you’re sick.

• No restrictions on workplaces or services but they are encouraged to maintain records to enable contact tracing.

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