The NSW Teachers Federation President Angelo Gavrielatos has told NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian that her roadmap to send Year 12 students back to the classroom is premature.
A controversial plan to mass-vaccinate Year 12 students with vaccines taken from rural NSW was meant to speed up the opening of schools.
Gavrielatos contests that the decision to reopen schools within two weeks comes too soon as the Delta variant continues to spread through Sydney despite the harshest lockdown since the beginning of the pandemic.
"This is the Delta strain, it is highly contagious and highly transmissible. We must put the health and safety of students, their teachers and families first,” said Gavrielatos, speaking with the Today show.
Large numbers of children and young adults have been infected in the recent Covid outbreak, but those over 70 remain the majority of hospitalisations and deaths. There have been 69 deaths in NSW since the beginning of the outbreak.
For months, the advice from the state’s Chief Health Officer, NSW Premier, and the Minister for Health remained consistent. The plan was to vaccinate the elderly and vulnerable as fast as possible because they represented the bulk of all Covid deaths and hospitalisations.
Global data shows that teenagers and school children are very unlikely to fall sick or die from Covid if they are otherwise healthy.
Despite this, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has cancelled the vaccine appointments of 44,000 people in regional NSW and diverted their Pfizer shots to Year 12 students in Sydney.
“Of course I have empathy for those people, we’d love to be awash of all types of vaccines,” insisted Berejiklian, when asked if she had empathy for those who had their vaccines taken away.
People who have had their vaccinations cancelled include front-line Aged Care workers over 50.
Anyone working in Aged Care faces losing their job in the next outbreak if they remain unvaccinated.
Students are being vaccinated to allow them to sit the HSC, raising concerns that those who refuse to be vaccinated may not be able to obtain the academic record they require to enter university. Australian universities are also in the process of making vaccination mandatory to attend classes, leaving those who refuse essentially locked out of the education system.
So far, the question of whether students must be vaccinated remains in doubt, partly due to the logistics of vaccinating all children before exams start.
“It is important for us to give those Year 12 students a chance to finish their exams and get rewarded," added Berejiklian.
Schools have been in and out of lockdown since 2020, with students of all ages missing out on significant amounts of face-to-face learning. Parents have expressed their frustration with the government, with many forced to essentially home school their children while struggling to work from home.
"It's not because schools aren't a safe place, they are a safe place, but what we really need to do in Greater Sydney is reduce mobility. We need to stop literally hundreds of thousands of adults moving around and interacting with each other inadvertently as they drop kids off, and pick kids up at those usual times,” said Berejiklian.
Rural NSW have said they are disappointed with the Berejiklian government. Regional NSW is predominately held by the National Party, not the Liberal Party.
“It should be equally fair across all of NSW, we shouldn't be treated like the poor cousin,” said Orange MP Phil Donato.