Victorian air filter for schools plan set to be national model

Victorian air filter for schools plan set to be national model

01/22/2022

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The Victorian government is close to finishing the roll-out of more than 50,000 air purifiers to schools as the federal government prepares to copy the state’s policy across the country to minimise the spread of COVID-19 among students.

Ten thousand purifiers still need to be provided before students return to their classrooms to meet the government commitment, which was made before the start of term 4 last year, with 41,000 of them already delivered.

More than 50,000 HEPA air filters have been provided for Victorian schools before the start of the new term.Credit:Joe Armao

Alison McMillan, the country’s Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer and co-chair of the national infection control expert group, said on Saturday that the use of the high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters was “still in its early development” and the group was closely monitoring Victoria’s roll-out.

“We may see the introduction of mobile filters and monitors in the coming months, but at the moment we are monitoring what we are seeing and working very closely with Victoria who are leading the work in schools on the use of filter systems,” Professor McMillan said.

Victoria’s COVID response commander Jeroen Weimar said on Saturday that the roll-out to Victorian public and low fee Catholic and independent schools “was on track”.

“A huge amount of work is being done at those schools to get them ready for the start of a new school year,” he said.

Mr Weimar said that the state needed to accept there would be some level of community transmission of the highly infectious Omicron variant in the first few weeks of the school year.

“We have to accept, as we’ve seen in other sectors, that there will be a level of community transmission happening in the first few weeks, that will mean that teachers have to isolate if they’ve got COVID. That means alternative workforce needs to be available,” Mr Weimar said.

“There are back-ups in place in the event that people get sick.”

A Victorian government spokesman said improving ventilation with the $190 million package was an effective way to keep schools safe.

“We are on track to have 51,000 air purifiers to schools for day one of Term 1 2022 with about 2,000 being delivered each day,” he said.

The Age on Saturday revealed retired teachers, principals and support staff would be urged to head back to school in term 1 to keep children in classrooms amid an expected staff shortage due to COVID-19.

A central pool of qualified school staff will be recruited to help plug gaps when current staff must isolate due to COVID-19 infection or exposure.

Victoria’s full plan is expected to be announced this week.

Meanwhile, the state’s Department of Education and Training has signed off on a contract for $3.267 million worth of children’s disposable face masks.

Under existing COVID-19 restrictions, children aged 8 and older are required to wear a face mask indoors. Last term, face masks were strongly recommended for prep to year 2 students and mandatory for those in grades above.

The federal Greens are pushing for the filters to be installed in every school classroom in the country, with independent costings prepared by the Parliamentary Budget Office showing it could be done for about $224 million.

The costings assume that schools that have already received a HEPA filter, such as those in Victoria, would not opt in to the Greens proposal.

Two weeks into the vaccine roll-out for those aged five to 11, 600,000 children have so far received a dose of the COVID-19 jab, following a patchy supply to GP clinics before schools resume.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said 2.4 million vaccine doses will be available for children next week, outstripping the number who need them.

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