After months at home, six-year-old Archie is ready to play with his friends again

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Archie’s mother Bronwen Morgan said he had kept up with his lessons, but he was missing out on developing his social skills while at home with her and his younger brother all the time. “I think there’s a certain stimulation you get at school that you don’t get at home,” she said.

“I wouldn’t want the lockdown to go on any longer. He’s still learning about people and how to interact with people. On one hand, he’s disappointed he won’t get to see the bigger kids. But he’s so looking forward to it.”

Chris Maher, a senior vaccine adviser to UNICEF Australia, said he understood some parents might be anxious about sending their children back, particularly those under 12 who cannot be vaccinated.

“But I think the risks to children going back to school now are really quite small. Increasingly the general population is getting better vaccinated, case numbers are going in the right direction – that reduces the overall risk kids are going to face,” he said.

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“They’re obviously so much better off having that [school] environment for their education and their social needs – it far outweighs any risk that may exist from COVID disease.”

Dr Maher said children were not going into an uncontrolled environment, either. “They’re going to be surrounded by vaccinated adults who are also going to be masked. It is extremely important that the education sector keeps following those basic infection control rules.”

High school students will also be wearing masks all day, unless they’re eating or exercising, and primary school students have been strongly advised to follow suit.

Archie’s kindergarten teacher has been helping students practice wearing masks over Zoom in the lead-up to Monday, so they get used to the feeling.

Mr Perrottet acknowledged there would be difficulties with young children and masks, which is why they were not compulsory. “Anyone who’s got young kids knows how hard it is to keep a mask on a kindergarten child… we need to make common-sense decisions,” he said.

Ninety per cent of the state’s public school teachers are now vaccinated, Mr Perrottet said.

”Obviously we have to manage cases, that is exactly what we’re doing, but we also have to manage the mental health of our young children. Getting kids back into the classroom as safely and quickly as possible is very important for them. There will be some challenges and difficulties, but I think we’re ready to go.“

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