Student attendance numbers have dropped at Canberra's public schools as parents opt to keep their children at home as a precaution against coronavirus.
The ACT Education Directorate would not provide figures on public school attendance rates since new "social distancing" measures came into effect this week, but a spokesman said they were reporting "higher than normal absences".
The spokesman said the government recognised that some parents were concerned about the spread of COVID-19, but emphasised that the medical advice remained that schools were "safe to attend".
Assemblies, sporting events, excursions and parent/teacher nights have been cancelled at schools across the country as of Monday. Students and staff, like the rest of the population, are being told to keep 1.5 metres apart, not shake hands and practice good hygiene.
At this stage, states and territories are holding off preemptively closing schools on the advice of chief health officers.
Australia's chief health officer Brendan Murphy on Wednesday said that it was in the "best interests of children and the nation that schools remain open", although he did acknowledge that localised closures might be necessary if there was a "big outbreak [of the virus] in the community".
Professor Murphy said that just 2.4 per cent of coronavirus cases in China'a Hubei province, where the pandemic originated, were people under the age of 19. Most of those people picked up the virus at home, he said.
"So it will be hard for schools, but it would be much, much, much harder for society if the schools were closed," he said.
"We want our children to be looked after in schools. If they were at home, we know that they probably wouldn't stay at home, they would probably congregate anyway and if transmission were occurring, it would happen."
Professor Murphy reiterated that students or staff who were sick should not be attending school.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison warned that blanket school closures would results in tens of thousands of job losses, if not more.
Mr Morrison referenced advice which estimated that the availability of 30 per cent of the health workforce would be compromised if the nation's school students had to be kept at home.
"That will put peoples' lives at risk," Mr Morrison said.
"Let's keep our heads as parents when it comes to this. Let's do the right thing by the country and by each other and follow the proper advice. There is a national public interest here in keeping schools open.
"If that were different and if that became different, then premiers and chief ministers and I would certainly come to a different view."
The ACT Education Directorate spokesman said the government was grateful for teachers and staff who, "under the most challenging circumstances .. were showing up every day to continue educating our students".
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