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Scotch and Unley closed as Coronavirus cases soar

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UPDATED | A top private college and a major public school will close after positive tests for COVID-19, as SA Health today confirmed nine further people have been diagnosed with the virus in South Australia.

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Scotch College, one of SA’s most expensive independent schools, will close both of its campuses at the close of business today for 24-48 hours, in response to the positive test.

Meanwhile the Education Department tonight revealed Unley High School is closed until further notice and will not be operational on Tuesday after “a member of the school community returned a positive test for COVID-19”.

The shutdown would “allow us to carry out a thorough clean of the entire site [which] will not be operational again until public health officials indicate that it is safe to do so”.

It comes as the number of confirmed cases in SA leapt by nine late today – to 29 in total.

Scotch principal John Newton wrote to parents today saying that the school was identifying all of the different places the study had been on Friday and had shared that with health authorities.

“The team at SA Health will begin getting in touch with parents of students that were in close proximity (as defined by SA Health) to this child today, as well as any staff involved, an (sic) provide direction and advice,” the letter says.

This afternoon, SA Health Acting Chief Medical Officer Dr Mike Cusack said that there had been two further cases of coronavirus diagnosed in South Australia over the past 24 hours.

They are a woman who was travelling from the Philippines and a man who had travelled to Adelaide from the United States – both aged in their fifties.

“We have had no evidence of community transmission (of cases with no international travel history) in South Australia, which is why it is so important that we adopt the public health measures … around social distancing, hand hygiene and so forth.

“If people do become sick or they develop symptoms then it is essential that they self-isolate, and if they meet the criteria … they should get tested.”

Cusack said he was not aware of any case of a school student contracting the virus in South Australia, but late today SA Health issued a new update saying the daily figure of confirmed cases had spiralled to 29 – including “female youth” who had had “close contact” with a confirmed case.

Cusack said a study of the outbreak of the coronavirus in China had shown little evidence of transmission between children within schools

“Typically, they contracted the disease in their own home from adults in the house.”

“School closures at this point in time … are unlikely to be helpful.”

He told reporters that if a student had tested positive, then the school would be expected to close for 24 hours for the school to be cleaned, and that he would make a further public statement when he is able to clarify about the student.

As InDaily revealed today, Principal Newton informed parents yesterday he “received notification on Friday evening that two students were self-isolating for 14 days due to the Coronavirus”.

“A relative came to stay with a Scotch family and was subsequently diagnosed with COVID-19,” he wrote in a missive seen by InDaily.

“Results were received on Friday afternoon.

“Both parents are medics and took immediate and appropriate action – the family must stay at home and self-isolate as they have been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed with the virus.”

Newton said as of Sunday morning it had been “24 hours since the students’ last contact with any member of the Scotch community, and neither student has displayed any symptoms”.

“According to SA Health guidance that means there is no requirement for anyone at Scotch with whom they have been in contact to self-isolate,” he wrote.

“Otherwise the usual vigilance for the published symptoms must continue – if any student is in similar circumstances, the school must be informed immediately and the recommended actions taken by parents.”

He said school boarders would be “supported by the College’s medical services and staff”.

“In the meantime, we are arranging a bio-clean of all areas that the students have visited in their last couple of days in school,” he wrote, adding it was “very much a precautionary measure”.

That process will now happen again, with Newton’s latest advice saying the campus will be “completely bio cleaned” tomorrow. If that process can’t be undertaken in one day, the school will be closed again on Wednesday.

Campus closure meant that no staff or students would be allowed on campus without “specific authority from the Heads of Campus”.

“This is a dynamic and fast evolving situation,” Newston said. “By way of background, subsequent to my communication to parents on Sunday, the two students who had self-isolated began to show symptoms. Instructions from SA Health made it clear that we should not contact parents until we had test results. As parents are aware, my practice is always to be as open as I can be. In this circumstance, I was required to hold information until further notice.”

Education Minister John Gardner last week declared all public education facilities would shut down for at last 24 hours in the event of a confirmed case of COVID-19, with independent and Catholic school sectors adopting the same advice.

However, Newton told parents: “We continue to prepare for the prospect of school closure.”

“It looks increasingly likely that closure will be for weeks as a pre-emptive measure rather than days to handle individual cases,” he warned.

The school, like many others, has also cancelled a variety of camp and excursion programs for the remainder of the term.

Sacred Heart College is closed today after a Year 11 student tested positive for coronavirus on Friday.

In a message to parents today, acting principal Shana Bennett said the school would resume classes tomorrow “unless directed otherwise”.

“It is important to know that the medical and government advice is that we reopen on Tuesday and essentially, it will be business as usual,” she wrote.

However she encouraged students to “take home any textbooks, books or resources you may need for your learning [and] each day only bring to school what you need for your lessons that day”.

Schools around the state remain open for now, with Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier telling ABC Radio this morning “there’s actually very little evidence that shutting schools at this stage is going to be effective”.

“It’s actually gatherings of adults coming close together [that we’re concerned about],” she said.

“I’m actually quite worried when I hear that people do want to think about shutting schools… in previous epidemics, actually when you shut schools and have children at home, you tend to get more spread of infection.”

Spurrier said while “it sounds counterintuitive” to keep schools open, closing them en masse would see many students socialise together in any case, healthcare workers would be forced to take time off to care for their children, while many would be cared for by grandparents, who are “the vulnerable people in our community”.

She noted, though, that “there are a lot of things that schools can do to improve social distancing and hygiene for students”, adding she would be talking to independent school principals by video conference this afternoon “because it’s actually very important that we keep the schools open at this stage”.

“Down the track we may need to close them but that is not key at this point,” she said.

Premier Steven Marshall today declared all buses, trains and trams would undergo “an intense daily clean to make sure we keep everyone as free from the coronavirus as possible”.

He said this would focus on “handrails and buttons”, but urged commuters to “maintain that social distancing as much as possible”.

As of midday, SA remained at 20 confirmed cases of the virus, with six of those already discharged from hospital.

Marshall said all those cases had “full traceability” and “we don’t have any unknown community transmission of the disease in SA”.

“We know that 18 of the 20 have directly come from overseas travel,” he said.

Marshall, who yesterday declared a state public health emergency, said the hastily convened national cabinet had asked the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee “to look at four critical areas” for advice: schools, aged care, mass gatherings and people living in remote and isolated areas.

“There’s a lot of concern about schools and why they’re staying open [but] to date there has been no directive whatsoever with regard to schools,” the Premier said.

“There’s been no evidence of community transmission of this disease in SA.”

However, he noted “it’s likely some states will have isolated areas where they’ll need to close public schools, but that hasn’t occurred as yet.”

However, he noted “some workplaces are already putting restrictions in place… trialling people working from home – and I applaud them for this”.

“I’m not here to say we’re going to get through unscathed – this is an unprecedented global pandemic – but what I am saying is we’re working very proactively around the clock to make sure we can buffer the consequences for all South Australians,” Marshall said.

Asked about people who may consider the response overblown, Marshall said: “This is not a joke – this a very serious global pandemic and they need to take this very seriously… but there is no need to panic.”

“We need to be alert but not alarmed… but we do need to be following very strictly those protocols that are already in place,” he said.

Sporting codes continue to be badly buffered by the pandemic, with the AFL reducing its season to 17 games, the SANFL delaying its season and Football Federation Australia confirming the remainder of A-League and W-League seasons will be played out “behind closed doors and with no fans permitted to attend”.

It means seventh-placed Adelaide United, on a four-game losing streak, looks likely to play out its remaining five matches with no supporters present.

A Federal mandate that all international arrivals must self-isolate for 14 days “means that matches involving Melbourne Victory and Wellington Phoenix will not proceed in Rounds 24 and 25” of the A-League, with the Phoenix “to play all their matches in Australia for the remainder of the Hyundai A-League 2019/20 season”.

Grassroots football, including all levels of the National Premier Leagues and FFA Cup Preliminary Rounds, “may continue to be played at this time in line with Government advice, but with additional measures implemented… including recommended hygiene measures and appropriate social distancing at football matches”.

“The scale of football means that we have a key role to play in maintaining the health and well-being of Australians, as well as their families and the wider community,” said FFA CEO James Johnson.

“We are doing so by allowing people to play, in line with the current Government position but with additional guidance to further improve social distancing at football fields around the country.”

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