Mixed messaging and a lack of co-ordination is creating anxiety over the best approach to dealing with the coronavirus.
Parents currently appear unsure over who to follow over whether they should send their children to school.
Labor has described the situation as a mess.
Victoria and the ACT have moved to start their Easter holidays early, with pupil free-days at public schools, but other states have kept schools open.
However, leaders including NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian have been telling parents to keep their children at home if possible.
Parents appear to have heeded her calls, with almost three-quarters of students absent from state schools on Tuesday.
The teachers’ unions remains angry after meeting with Scott Morrison over coronavirus school closures.
The NSW Teachers Federation called for a planned transition to online learning across all state schools as attendance numbers continue to fall.
“We need to be able to plan and we need to be able to plan on the basis of clear advice, clear statements, and a clear position by our elected leaders,” federation president Angelo Gavrielatos told reporters.
The government is failing to fulfill its obligations with respect to the health and safety of teachers in high risk groups including those who are pregnant, immunocomprimised, chronically ill. They should be advised to work from home.
— Angelo Gavrielatos (@AGavrielatos) March 20, 2020
NSW has recorded its first infections in children aged under 10, with a two-month-old boy and a seven-year-old girl who both had contact with people with coronavirus testing positive.
“This is, frankly, a mess,” federal opposition health spokesman Chris Bowen told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday.
“We have this game of ‘open-shut-them’ between the Prime Minister and the Premier of NSW, which is sending terribly mixed messages to families and parents who really don’t know whether to listen to the Prime Minister or the Premier.”
The Prime Minister expects all schools will reopen after the Easter break, around Anzac Day.
Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone says it is time for a UK-style shutdown to most effectively mitigate against the impact of the outbreak.
“It is a big call for governments to direct the population to cease work, suspend schools, and only leave home for essential needs, but the AMA will back governments in making this call,” he said on Wednesday.
Dr Bartone said too many Australians were already flouting existing rules while mixed messaging from governments had brought about confusion and anxiety.
“We need strong consistent messages from all levels of government,” he said.
“More people need to be at home to flatten the escalation curve.”
When asked why Australia isn’t implementing a total lockdown, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said “I don’t think we should rush to that sort of scenario. I think you could rush to failure in that sort of scenario.”
Labor is backing a tighter shutdown.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said the government was creating a tension between the economic and health impacts of the pandemic.
“It’s time the politics was put aside. It’s time to deal with this health emergency,” he told reporters in Sydney.
Mr Albanese also said the gradually tightening restrictions were confusing people.
The Prime Minister has also been vague on what constitute ‘essential services’.
While he has encouraged people to work from home if it is feasible, he has also defined an essential worker as “someone who has a job”.
This is in stark contrast to New Zealand, where working from home has been deemed mandatory where possible, with only essential workers to leave their house.
With Australians being urged to stay close to home and tens of thousands already losing their jobs, the Australian Retailers Association and SDA, the union representing floor staff, have written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison pleading for help.
Thousands have already lost their jobs as businesses shut down, either voluntarily or forced, to counter the spread of COVID-19.
“The last 48 hours have been an absolutely shocking time for working Australians,” ACTU secretary Sally McManus told ABC radio on Wednesday.
Out-of-work people are queuing outside Centrelink offices for a third day in a row as the federal government’s welfare services online portal struggles to keep up with demand.
“There would be no lines outside Centrelink if we had a wage subsidy like the UK,” Ms McManus said.
She said employers and employees would have certainty that 80 per cent of wages would be covered.
Under the government’s plan to temporarily double the Jobseeker allowance – previously known as Newstart – people will have to wait five weeks to get that extra benefit.
“People can’t wait five weeks for that extra money, that is something that needs to be addressed urgently,” Ms McManus said.
We need a guaranteed wage subsidy to support workers through COVID-19.
If the UK can guarantee up to 80% of people’s wages …. Australia can too. pic.twitter.com/K4UquSybbf
— Unions NSW (@unionsnsw) March 25, 2020
Unions are pushing for a wage subsidy like that introduced in the UK to support Australian workers during the coronavirus crisis, rather than letting people rely on government benefits.