Australia’s second-most populous state will resume face-to-face teaching from May 27, weeks earlier than expected, after a school shutdown to halt the spread of the new coronavirus, Premier Daniel Andrews said on Tuesday.
The state including the city of Melbourne would take a staggered approach with teenagers in classrooms first, followed by younger pupils from June 9, Andrew said.
The Labor premier has been criticised by his political opponents for being too slow to reopen schools, a step seen as key to restoring the national economy which 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, as new infections trend lower with seven new cases in the state in the 24 hours to Tuesday, according to official figures.
Victorian classes would 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.”
Drop-offs and lunch times would be staggered, cleaning would be ramped up and all adults would be required to keep their distance.
Victoria is the last state to announce the return to school following national shutdown measures to contain the flu-like illness which began in China late last year.
Schools in Australia’s biggest state, New South Wales, reopened on Monday but only allowing students to attend one day a week on a staggered basis.
The state reported its first 24-hour 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. NSW and Victoria account for most of the confirmed cases and 97 deaths.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is expected to say on Tuesday that the planned removal of most social distancing restrictions across Australia by July will boost its economy by more than A$9 billion ($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 one million people back to work, would provide an immediate boost to its economy.
The government expects about 850,000 people will return to work once the planned relaxation of social distancing restrictions is implemented.