Coronavirus health advice every parent needs to know before kids go back to school

Passengers arrive at Sydney International Airport on January 23, 2020. Photo by Don Arnold/Getty Images
Passengers arrive at Sydney International Airport on January 23, 2020. Photo by Don Arnold/Getty Images 

There are currently five confirmed cases of the deadly coronavirus in Australia, prompting health authorities, schools and childcare centres to issue warnings ahead of the school year.

While parents don't need to panic, there are some important guidelines to follow.

Public, private and Catholic schools - and preschools and childcare centres - are issuing attendance advice to parents who have recently travelled to China in accordance with recommendations from the Department of Health.

In NSW, the Department of Education has just updated their advice to request that parents who have holidayed with their children in China to keep their children home for the 14 day incubation period. 

"We know that many in the community have been wanting to see this, " NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said on Tuesday afternoon. "I think it is important we are taking this precautionary measure in line with community sentiment but also knowing we are doing everything we can even though the risk is low, to ensure the safety in that school environment."

Prior to this statement being release, some schools chose to exclude students who have travelled anywhere in China recently, while others were excluding only those who have travelled to Wuhan or had contact with a confirmed case.

If your school or childcare provider has not yet issued a statement, these are the general guidelines to follow.

Coronavirus health advice:

  • Students returning from Wuhan who are well, and have not been in contact with a person with confirmed coronavirus, can continue to attend school provided that they follow the advice below.
     
  • If they develop a fever, a cough, sore throat or shortness of breath, within 14 days of returning the student should be immediately isolated from other people.
     
  • If your child is a boarder, see further guidelines here.
     
  • Parents who are concerned about their child's symptoms should isolate them and contact their local area Public Health Unit by phone or email for advice on seeking treatment.
     
  • People are also advised to wash hands regularly with soap and water and avoid touching the eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.

Extra precaution:

  • As an extra precaution, any child who has travelled to Australia from any part of China in the past two weeks can be kept home from school or childcare for a period of 14 days.
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Of the confirmed cases - four in NSW and one in Victoria - all had travelled to Wuhan, China or had contact with a diagnosed case in China.

In response to the outbreak, many childcare providers and schools have issued direct statements to families reiterating the NSW government's guidelines. 

Some of Sydney's top private schools, including Scots College and Pymble Ladies College, have ordered the parents of students returning from China get a doctor's clearance before sending their children back to school this week following the outbreak of the deadly coronavirus.

Meanwhile in Melbourne, private schools such as Firbank Grammar School and Scotch College are also asking parents to keep their children home for 14 days if they have travelled to parts of China affected by coronavirus, according to letters sent to 3AW.

The Director of Nought to Five Early Childcare Centre in Sydney's north-west, Michelle Hensby, said she decided to issue an added precaution that families "who have travelled to China recently notify the Centre and seek medical clearance or adhere to the minimum exclusion of 14 days."  

"I knew parents would be concerned given the situation in our local area," she told Essential Baby.

Many parents have taken to Facebook groups expressing their anxiety about sending their children back to school and several have even launched online petitions. 

Sydney mother Wendy Woo wasn't content with the current guidelines and is urging the government to exclude from schools, students who have travelled to Australia from all regions of China.

She started an online petition for the government to put forward the stricter guidelines which has been signed nearly 7,000 times to date.

"For the safety of the wider school community, I would like to ask the NSW government (Health and Education Department) to enforce a strict restriction for all families recently returned from China to keep their son/daughter at home for two weeks before attending school. I am confident that if we work together, we can win this battle." 

Another parent at Roseville Public School in Sydney's north shore has started a petition to urge the government to delay the start of school until February 17.

How to protect yourself from coronavirus (Graphic: Tara Blancato)

How to protect yourself from coronavirus (Graphic: Tara Blancato / Nine)

For further information or advice about the coronavirus outbreak, please contact ​the Public Health Information Line on 1800 044 599 or visit the Australian Government Department of Health website.