SYDNEY, May 11 (Reuters) - Children in some Australian states began returning to school on Monday after an extended break due to the new coronavirus, as the country’s rate of new infections continued to slow.
Students of New South Wales, the most populous state, and the northern state of Queensland began going back to school on a limited basis to lessen the risk of spreading the illness, state leaders said.
The NSW government said it has delivered thousands of litres of soap and hand sanitiser to schools, as well as personal protective equipment and temperature monitors. Class sizes will be reduced and activities will involve minimal physical contact between the students, many of whom have not attended school since mid-March.
“I know this is a huge relief for families,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.
“It is a huge relief for the state government because we know how important it is for students to receive that face to face teaching,” she added.
Final year students, whose exams were interrupted by the virus response, would attend at least three days per week in class, Berejiklian said, with the plan to return to full-time class attendance for all students by the end of May.
NSW has suffered about 45% of the country’s roughly 6,900 confirmed cases and 97 deaths. But it has said it will begin easing some restrictions on personal movement later this week as the rate of new infections remains low.
The state recorded just one new case in the 24 hours to Monday morning.
Australia’s second most populous state, Victoria, has asked parents to keep their children home if possible until the middle of the year and plans to give an update on its social distancing measures on Monday.
After giving a three-stage plan on Friday to ease restrictions on Australian domestic movement by July, state and federal officials will meet on Monday to discuss ways of dealing with the risks of crowds on public transport as businesses start to reopen, the country’s chief medical officer said on the weekend.
Australia has largely avoided the high COVID-19 casualty numbers of other countries due to a nationwide stay-home order and border closures, including closing the borders between states.
The rate of new infections has slowed to less than 1% per day nationwide, compared to a daily growth rate of nearly a quarter during March. (Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)