New Zealand government to reopen schools despite Omicron threat

With New Zealand’s new school term starting in less than three weeks, the Labor Green government has said it wants students to return to class full-time this year, even as the highly virulent variant of COVID-19 Omicron threatens to sweep across the country.

Last week, more than 90 cases of Omicron were detected at the border, with three cases entering the country. There were 64 new border-related COVID-19 cases in MIQ (isolation and quarantine managed) over the weekend, bringing the total to 227.

Whenuapai School in West Auckland (Source: Google Streetview)

With the increase in the number of returnees to New Zealand testing positive, there are fears of an imminent Omicron epidemic in the community. Epidemiologist Michael Baker called the variant a “huge threat” and said it was not about whether there was an epidemic, but when.

Baker further warned that New Zealand was not ready for Omicron and that the country needed “time to prepare”. The government’s three-tier “traffic light” COVID-19 management system, which replaced blockages in December, “isn’t going to help us much with Omicron,” he told Newstalk ZB, and a return to localized blockages should be considered.

Despite these warnings, Education and COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins told the New Zealand Herald that in 2022, he wants “stability and full attendance” of schools, with “disruptive measures” such as the alternation of days on site only used at the local level in the event of an epidemic. He predicted that a “high threshold” would be required before authorities considered closing a school. “A few cases usually wouldn’t be enough to trigger it,” Hipkins said.

The government is seeking to quell any repetition of resistance that emerged among teachers and parents late last year. COVID-19 has spread to more than 130 schools and early childhood education (ECE) centers after the outbreak in August of the Delta variant. According to the Teachers Advocacy Group, of 38 schools and ECEs where students or staff tested positive in November, 22 had remained open and 16 were closed for just a few days.

The Ministry of Education (MoE), supported by teacher unions, the Post Primary Teachers Association and the NZ Educational Institute, said at the time that under the government’s so-called “traffic lights” framework, which replaced widespread closures in December, schools were unlikely to close completely, even with cases of COVID-19.

The Education Ministry released a standardized email last quarter, circulated among parents, stating: “Based on international and local evidence and experience, the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in schools is considered low. This is a blatant lie. Schools, including in Auckland, have become hotbeds of the spread of COVID-19 among children, staff, their families and the wider community,

As the new school year approaches, Hipkins says vaccination is enough to justify reopening. As of January 1, all staff should have been doubly vaccinated, while vaccination rates for high school students are expected to reach 90% by the start of the term. Pfizer’s vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 will be available from January 17, with 476,000 eligible.

Pretending to care about the well-being of students, Hipkins claimed their return to school would help address issues such as the so-called “digital divide,” which he said has been made worse by COVID. Teachers had found blended learning “almost impossible,” Hikpins added. It would focus on “well-being” by making sure students attend school and engage. “We certainly wouldn’t want them to waste any more time learning in person,” Hipkins said.

In reality, the problems associated with e-learning were the product of the government’s failure to provide sufficient resources for students and staff.

Public health measures will be in place, the minister said, with the masking within and the cohort, meaning by limiting the mixing between class groups. In fact, it is impossible for hundreds of students and staff to adhere to basic social distancing and other necessary guidelines. According to David Welch of the University of Auckland, massive reinforcement of protective measures, including improvements to ventilation in schools and workplaces, is urgently needed.

Hipkins openly embraces the homicidal policy demanded by ruling elites internationally of “collective immunity,” declaring the Herald the “best case scenario” for New Zealand is “mutating COVID over time to become more communicable but much less severe”. Last month he said categorically; “We are now moving to a different space, where we are going to have COVID-19 in the community. “

The government’s policy of letting the virus spread is heavily criticized by scientific experts. Baker warned that every government agency must prepare immediately for Omicron, including measures “to reduce the risk in schools [and] manage infection in children. That could mean “closing entire classes or schools for short periods of time,” as well as frequent rapid antigen testing for students and teachers and indoor masks for children as young as 5 years old.

Schools in overseas countries have been forced to close because many teachers were on sick leave, Baker warned. Under current Labor policy, he noted, even during an Omicron outbreak under “red light” parameters, schools must always remain open. Steps must be taken before the virulent variant enters, so that classrooms “don’t just turn into a never-ending series of mass-market events,” Baker said.

Particularly in Europe and North America, the highly infectious variant of Omicron is forcing many schools to close as it quickly spreads among teachers and students. The reopening of schools produces a catastrophe as governments are determined to make them work, putting children at risk so that their parents can continue to work, generating profits for the economic and financial elite.

Determined resistance is erupting internationally as teachers, students and parents unite to oppose the homicidal agenda. A wave of class struggles has already broken out. Thousands of teachers across the United States are currently organizing work stoppages in defiance of the dangerous reopening of schools.

Teachers held walkouts last week in Chicago, Oakland and San Francisco to fight for a switch to fully distance learning to stop viral transmission. Chicago Democratic Party Mayor Lori Lightfoot effectively sidelined teachers in response.

The UK Educators Safety Committee called an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss a response to the rampant spread of COVID-19 in UK schools. Australian teachers face the same struggle, as record cases of Omicron escalate daily.

To stop an ongoing public health disaster, teachers, school staff and parents in New Zealand must take matters into their own hands and oppose the Ardern government’s agenda. The Socialist Equality Group (NZ) calls for the formation of grassroots safety committees in every school, WCS and workplace to fight for the closure of all non-essential schools and businesses in areas affected by COVID-19, and for an elimination strategy to reduce the number of cases to zero.

It must be part of an international campaign. We are calling on teachers and parents to register to participate in the WSWS Global Workers’ Inquiry into the COVID-19 pandemic, which will lay out the government policies that allowed the coronavirus to spread around the world and what should be done to stop the pandemic.


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