News Keep kids at home if you can: Hipkins

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The Government is urging parents to continue to keep their children at home if they’re able when the country moves into alert level 3 next week.

Education Minister Chris Hipkins was giving a Covid-19 update to media this afternoon and said most children will continue distance learning under alert level 3.

“If you can keep your kids at home, please do keep your kids at home.”

The number of coronavirus cases in New Zealand increased by five, with two new confirmed and three probable cases, all linked to existing cases.

The death toll now stands at 14, director-general of health Dr Ashley Bloomfield said.

The new cases brings New Zealand’s total cases to 1445. There are now 1006 recovered people with 12 still in hospital, and three in intensive care, including one in Dunedin.

The Government yesterday announced the country would be lifted out of lockdown and move to alert level 3 at 11.59pm on Monday, April 27. It would remain in at least alert level three for the following two weeks before being reviewed again.

Schools and early learning centres could reopen on Wednesday, April 29 for children who could not learn from home or whose parents were going back to work at alert level 3.

People would be allowed into schools and early learning centres from today for cleaning and other preparations ahead of a teacher-only day on Tuesday, April 28.

Hipkins said today that children who can stay home should stay home, while at-risk staff – including those over 70 – should stay home and will be supported to do so.

He said it was acceptable to bring in a relative to look after children at home if both parents needed to work.

Education for those in years 11-13 will continue to learn remotely, while university students in flats or hostels can stay there with strict social distancing precautions.

If students went home before the start of lockdown, they must stay there.

Some schools will have a teacher-only day on April 28, with children to attend from the next day – however, some schools may need to take longer on their preparations before re-opening.

Hipkins said parents must do their bit – definitely keep children home if unwell and take advice on whether they need to be tested, maintain your household bubble and maintain good hygiene.

Distance learning will continue for at least three weeks; 10,000 devices have been distributed from schools, 6700 routers have been distributed and 1250 internet-ready computers have been distributed and another 4500 computers have landed. Priority is students facing NCEA exams this year.

The minister said residential and special schools would not be able to open in the early stages of alert level three, but may be able to open later on if public health measures could be managed.

He said 649,000 people had tuned in during the first three days of the televised learning sessions, led by Suzy Cato.

“To all of the parents out there, my message to you is be kind to yourself. We are not expecting parents to completely replace the learning environment at home.”

He said the Government was doing its best to limit the impact on children’s learning.

About 400,000 more Kiwis would go back to work, but about one million people would still be at home, he said, and urged parents to try to find other family arrangements to look after their children if that was an option – such as an aunt or relative.

Are children at risk of getting coronavirus?

The Government says it believes children and teenagers were at low risk of catching and passing on the coronavirus.

However, early childhood services want more evidence it will be safe to reopen next week and some are likely to remain closed. The Early Childhood Council, which represents more than 1000 early childhood services, had called for centres to remain closed until the country reached alert level 2.

Hipkins said keeping numbers at schools low was key. One of the elements being looked at to ensure the school bubbles remained tight was cleaning the bathrooms in between each group using them – a system of rostered toilet breaks.

Dr Bloomfield was asked about his advice that children did not pass on the virus, and referred to a WHO report which found that in Wuhan in China, the initial epicentre of coronavirus, – and other countries since – very few cases were in children and there were no cases in which a child had passed the virus on.

He said in New Zealand, the children who got the virus had got it from others in their household.

If there were cases that got into an ECE, keeping children in ‘in-school bubbles’ should make it easy to trace contacts.

He said given the low numbers of new cases, and very low numbers of community transmission the chances of the virus getting through the school gate in the first time was very low.

What about NCEA?

Asked about support for NCEA students to ensure their year was not impacted, Hipkins said guidance was being provided to schools for children who had to miss some internal assessment or exams.

It was possible students could play catch-up next year, such as by finishing some level one papers next year while they were doing level two.

Hipkins said students could do some work at home, although that was harder for courses with practical components such as science.

It was too early to assess what impact it would have on overall educational outcomes, but he said the Christchurch earthquake had little impact on that year’s outcomes.

RNZ and NZ Herald