Conflicting NSW, fed govt virus advice

Dan Tehan has rebuked some private schools for forcing students returning from China to stay away.
Dan Tehan has rebuked some private schools for forcing students returning from China to stay away.

The NSW government has requested children who have recently travelled to China amid the coronavirus outbreak to avoid school, hours after the federal education minister chastised schools making the same recommendation.

Parents in NSW have been asked to keep their kids at home when school returns on Wednesday if their children have been in China within the past 14 days.

The decision was made after some schools approached the NSW government with concerns about allowing potentially-exposed children to return to class.

Some private schools have already isolated pupils who have recently visited China or told them to stay home for at least a fortnight in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.

"We are asking parents to support the community by holding their children back from school ... this is very much a precautionary decision," NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard told reporters on Tuesday afternoon.

"Most of them (parents) would be considering it a reasonable extension of the steps to protect the community."

The recommendation was made hours after the federal education minister encouraged schools to follow the Australian government's medical advice - which did not include preventing recent China travellers attending school.

The Victorian and South Australian education departments have also told parents only to keep children away from school if they're a confirmed case, have been exposed to a confirmed case or have symptoms.

"The chief health officers have been unanimous in saying this is a proportionate and evidence-based policy position," Victoria's chief health officer Dr Brett Sutton told reporters in Melbourne on Tuesday.

The federal government's advice is that if students have returned home from China but are healthy, it is reasonable for them to attend school. If they have been in contact with somebody with coronavirus, they should not attend.

"Individual schools make their own decisions but the advice from the Australian government is to follow our medical advice," education minister Dan Tehan told ABC radio on Tuesday.

"I would say to all schools that they should be following the advice of the health department, that is the clear position of the Australian government."

Several boarding schools around the country have either isolated students from mainland China in separate living quarters or have told parents the pupils will be segregated if they do not stay away for at least a fortnight.

The coronavirus outbreak also poses a significant threat to Australian universities, with roughly 164,000 Chinese students who attend university in Australia.

Mr Tehan said university officials were working with students in China who are unable to travel so they might be able to take online courses.

A 21-year-old University of NSW student became the country's fifth person to be diagnosed on Monday after flying back from the virus's epicentre in central China's Wuhan.

The student displayed no symptoms upon landing in Sydney last Thursday but began exhibiting flu-like symptoms 24 hours later.

The virus has an incubation period of between one to 14 days.

Australian Associated Press