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Victorian premier defies Morrison with Covid-19 school closures

Other states likely to follow suit after Victoria goes against federal coronavirus guidelines

Daniel Andrews, Victoria’s premier, has ignored a directive from prime minister Scott Morrison on Covid-19 restrictions by pushing ahead with school closures across the state.

The move puts Andrews at odds with Morrison, who has repeatedly told the media that schools and universities will remain open. It also signals that states and territories are increasingly likely to adopt their own restrictions for education institutions, including a rapid switch to online teaching at Victoria’s universities for most of 2020.

“We cannot see children lose an entire year of their education as a result of school closures caused by Covid-19,” Morrison said on 22 March, following a meeting with state and territory premiers.

However, shortly after the meeting, Andrews moved to shut down Victoria’s schools for several weeks by bringing school holidays forward to 24 March.

“Schools will use this time to support teachers and staff [and] plan for flexible and remote learning in the event schools need to move to that method of teaching,” he said.

Andrews also announced the formation of a coronavirus enforcement squad of 500 police “to ensure containment measures that have been put in place to combat coronavirus are followed”.

“Coordinated through the police operations centre, the officers will be out in the community doing spot checks on returning travellers who are in 14-day isolation, as well as enforcing the bans on indoor and outdoor gatherings,” he said in an official statement.

His move marks a decisive break from Morrison’s guarded response to the global pandemic, setting Victoria on a more rigorous path of containment than advocated federally. New South Wales premier Gladys Berejiklian and Australian Capital Territory premier Andrew Barr have suggested they are likely to follow Victoria’s lead.

Berejiklian said that while NSW schools would remain open, parents would be encouraged to keep their children at home.

“Already last week we had up to 30 per cent of parents who chose to keep their children at home, and we appreciate and anticipate that number will increase,” she said.

Barr has adopted a similar approach, saying Canberra’s schools will move to online learning but remain open for those “who absolutely need to attend”. 

Andrews was at odds with Morrison over the federal response to the recent bushfire crisis. He asked for help from the Australian Defence Force to evacuate 4,000 people trapped on beaches in eastern Victoria. The request forced the federal government to provide ADF assistance to Victoria and other states affected by the fires. 

Following the national cabinet meeting, Andrews suggested that Morrison’s updated restrictions, which include closure of non-essential services such as cinemas and pubs, were not adequate to contain the virus.

“Speaking as honestly as possible, it’s likely that governments across Australia will need to go further in the days and weeks ahead,” he said.

On social media, veteran journalist and former Hawke government adviser Barrie Cassidy wrote: “Has anybody yet picked up on the fact that the premiers are now leading the country? And just as well.”