The federal government is offering $3.3 billion to encourage private schools to reopen soon as education becomes a political battleground regarding coronavirus.
The early payment would be given to private schools across Australia if they get students back into classrooms within a month.
It comes as the federal government is at loggerheads with three states that are refusing to fully reopen schools, and teachers also push back over safety fears.
Confusion abounds about the different approaches between the states but also the federal government’s advice that social distancing rules do not apply inside classrooms.
Commonwealth medical advice is that schools are considered low-risk and children are not regarded as super spreaders of COVID-19.
Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan wants students to return to normal education by the end of May, as the coronavirus crisis eases in Australia.
But he’s faced pushback from Queensland, NSW and Victoria and private school bodies.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has dug in his heels, ordering schools to stick with remote learning for term two.
Mr Andrews said seven coronavirus cases in Victoria had been traced back to schools, and the science on whether or not to keep children away from classrooms to tackle COVID-19 was “not settled”.
“We can guess, or we can have an abundance of caution and I’m happy to be criticised for being cautious in this. I know what’s at stake,” Mr Andrews said.
Mr Tehan has written to the independent schools’ peak body and the National Catholic Education Commission offering an early payment of a quarter of annual funding, normally due in July.
He said if schools commited to having their physical campuses open for term two, they could get 12.5 per cent of their money – almost $1.7 billion – on May 21.
They must also have a plan to fully reopen classrooms at the start of June.
The same amount would be paid on June 9 if at least half their students are back in regular classroom-based learning from June 1.
The idea is to give schools a cash boost if they need it to cope with the virus crisis while also giving them an incentive to end learning from home.
Schools don’t have long to consider the offer. Mr Tehan has given them until Friday to opt in.
Four deaths at aged care home
Federal Aged Care Minister Richard Colbeck has expressed sorrow at the deaths four more residents at Sydney’s Newmarch House, which take the nursing home’s death toll to 11.
Senator Colbeck said he had spoken with the NSW government and the home’s Anglicare management.
“We’ve got a large number of people in an aged-care facility who’ve been infected and the outcome is absolutely tragic,” Senator Colbeck told Nine’s Today show on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, Anglicare Sydney extended its sympathies, saying: “This is a tragic time not only for the families who have lost their loved ones but for other residents and families.”
The home said the deaths had occurred since 8pm on Monday.
The virus was introduced to the Caddens facility by an employee who worked for six days with mild respiratory symptoms.
About 50 residents and staff members at Newmarch House have contracted COVID-19.
Australia’s death toll on Wednesday is at 88, with a total of 6733 infections.
In a 24 hours to Tuesday, Australia had 12 new infections. Only one was from community transmission.
Grocery limits lifted
Supermarkets are making moves to get back to normal, with Coles lifting toilet paper limits that were introduced to stop hoarding.
As the toilet paper fever eases, the retailer has lifted its one packet per person restrictions to allow customers to buy as many packets of toilet paper and paper towels as they want.
“We expect to remove further limits as customer demand continues to stabilise and more categories see supply levels return to normal,” a spokeswoman said.
Other staples such as pasta, flour, eggs, liquid soap and anti-bacterial wipes are still restricted to two per person.
Coles is the first retailer to lift restrictions on toilet paper but Woolworths will follow the move to ease wider purchase limits.
From Wednesday, Woolies customers will be allowed to buy up to four packs of toilet paper, up from just one before. The new limit will also apply to rice.
All product limits will also be removed for pasta, frozen vegetables, tissues, baby wipes, baked beans and canned spaghetti, as well as paper towels and disposable gloves.
Eggs, flour, sugar, pasta sauce, hand wash, cleaners and disinfectants will still be restricted to two per person.
Aldi has not announced major changes to its restrictions. However, on Tuesday it said its shops will return to normal trading hours unless state and local trading restrictions applied.
Also on Tuesday, alcohol chain Dan Murphy’s returned to standard retail purchasing limits for wine and spirits.
Some temporary restrictions still apply to beer, cider and pre-mixed spirits, depending on whether it is an in-store or delivery purchase.
Logie awards cancelled
Australian television’s night of nights has been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Bauer Media, which publishes the Logie’s main sponsor, TV Week magazine, made the announcement after weeks of consultation with organisers around COVID-19 restrictions.
The event will return to the Gold Coast’s The Star casino in 2021, when it will consider the past 12 months of television and programs that air throughout the remainder of 2020.
“All parties agree the most positive outcome is to not hold the TV Week Logies, including public voting, in 2020, but to stage an even bigger event on the Gold Coast in 2021,” spokeswoman Fiona Connolly said.