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Schools stay open for now on health advice

Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) NO ARCHIVING

Australia's Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy speaks to the media during a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch) 

Schools will remain open for the foreseeable future amid the coronavirus crisis with governments heeding advice that closing them would have dire consequences.

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the nation's top medical officers and leaders are constantly monitoring the situation and it could change.

"There is only one reason your kids shouldn't be going to school and that is if they are unwell," he told reporters on Wednesday.

"There is a national public interest here in keeping schools open and our advice is that is not being done at the detriment of the health of any child."

Any measures restricting movement in society would have to be in place for at least six months.

"That means the disruption that would occur from the closure of schools around this country, make no mistake, would be severe," Mr Morrison said.

Closing schools could lead to tens of thousands of job losses and reduce the healthcare workforce by almost a third, he warned.

Labor has urged the government to start planning for how to support health workers, pointing to Norway where skeleton staff have been left in schools to teach the children of doctors and nurses.

There are also concerns that children kept at home might be put into the care of grandparents, who are more vulnerable to the disease.

Some public and private schools have already opted to shut their gates.

Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said the health committee advising governments believed very strongly that keeping schools open was the best thing to protect the community.

"There may be occasions when there's a big outbreak in a community that some local school closures might be necessary," he told reporters.

"But at this time, across the community, our view is that schools should stay open."

However, school life would have to change for the time being, with large gatherings like assemblies and excursions cancelled and teachers and students alike making sure to wash their hands regularly and practise good hygiene.

"It will be hard for schools, but it would be much, much, much harder for the society if the schools were closed," Professor Murphy said.

The peak body for Australia's early and middle childhood education sector has also warned that closures of schools and childcare centres could exacerbate staffing shortages once life returns to normal.

Community Early Learning Australia research and policy manager, and University of Melbourne academic, Megan O'Connell, estimates the average childcare centre would lose $10,000 a day if it was forced to close.

And she says one in eight school teachers are casuals who may be prompted to leave the profession sooner if they aren't being paid to be in class.

© AAP 2020

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