Sydney – Australia’s second-most populous state will resume in-person teaching May 27, weeks earlier than expected, after schools were shut down to halt the spread of the coronavirus, Premier Daniel Andrews said Tuesday.
The state, including the city of Melbourne, will take a staggered approach with teenagers in classrooms first, followed by younger pupils starting June 9, Andrew said.
The Labor premier has been criticized by his political opponents for being too slow to reopen schools, a step seen as key to restoring a national economy that is heading for its first recession in 30 years.
The May 27 target date brings forward a previous government recommendation to keep Victorian students at home until mid-year. Infections have been trending lower, with seven new cases in the state reported Monday, according to official figures.
Classes will resume starting with years 11 and 12, and prep grades one and two, Andrews said.
“With three students in my own household, all learning from home … I know and understand this has not been easy,” Andrews told reporters in Melbourne. “But it has made a profound difference, a profound difference to the number of cases that we have.”
Arrivals and lunch times will be staggered, cleaning will be ramped up and all adults will be required to keep their distance.
Victoria is the last state to announce the return to school following national shutdown measures to contain the pandemic.
Schools in Australia’s biggest state, New South Wales, reopened Monday, but students are attending classes just one day a week on a staggered basis.
The state reported its first 24-hour period without a single new positive case after conducting 6,000 tests in the same period.
Australia has recorded about 7,000 cases of COVID-19 and 97 deaths from the virus, significantly below the levels reported in the United States, Britain and Europe. New South Wales and Victoria account for most of the confirmed cases and deaths.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was expected to say Tuesday that the planned removal of most social distancing restrictions across Australia by July will boost its economy by more than 9 billion Australian dollars ($5.80 billion) each month.
In a speech, extracts of which were provided in advance to media, Frydenberg is expected to say the government’s gradual plan to get 1 million people back to work will provide an immediate boost to the economy.
The government expects that about 850,000 people will return to work once the relaxation of social distancing restrictions is implemented.
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