Decision on school closures tonight
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison will meet with medical experts, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee and health officers of all states and territories to decide an action plan on school closures in Australia.
It comes as Victoria and New South Wales push for a lockdown of all non-essential activities, including a school shutdown from Tuesday.
67 new coronavirus cases were confirmed in Victoria overnight, bringing the state total to 278 while NSW confirmed an additional 97 cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in NSW to 533.
Nine News political editor Chris Uhlmann said the outcome was likely to be agreed upon but political reporter for the ABC, Josh Probyn, said if the measures were not agreed upon tonight, "Victoria will go it alone".
The Herald Sunsaid "in breaking news, Victoria will shut schools on Tuesday the Premier says - even if the rest of Australia doesn't".
BREAKING: Victoria and NSW will push for a lockdown of non-essential activities, including businesses. No going to restaurants, no going to pubs.— Andrew Probyn (@andrewprobyn) March 22, 2020
Victoria will also push for schools to be shut from Tuesday. If not agreed by National Cabinet tonight, Victoria will go it alone.
Scott Morrison confirmed the issue would be presented to all of the ministers this afternoon and would meet as a National Cabinet tonight to consider the response.
The meeting has been brought forward from Tuesday.
"That is the orderly and calm way to deal with these things and to make decisions in the responsive matter," he said.
Mr Probyn told the ABC New South Wales and Victoria are pushing "behind the scenes for there to be a shutdown of all non-essential services, including businesses, no clubs, no restaurants."
"But we also know that the states, particularly Victoria, want to have a shutdown of schools from Tuesday. If that is not agreed by National Cabinet, Victoria, I understand, we'll go it alone. Now, this is a critical point in the national response on the coronavirus.
"The great advantage of having a National Cabinet formed by the Prime Minister, with the agreement of the premiers and chief ministers, is that you have a consistent message and a consistent response.
"The government and the National Cabinet's view so far, on the basis of medical advice, the best medical advice, is that shutting schools would do more harm than good.
"But we might have a breakdown in that consistent response as of Tuesday. So this is going to be quite a discussion tonight, one would think, because we are looking at now a major, major shutdown, a lockdown of businesses across Australia, potentially, coming very, very soon."
Mr Morrison defended his actions to keep schools open, assuring Australians that "I have been following the same health advice on attendance to school that I have offered to all Australians. I want to be very clear about that.
"I would also ask, and this goes for all members of parliament and all public figures, I would ask you to be respectful about the privacy of our families and of our children.
"I am aware of circumstances where the children of members of parliament and the schools they are attending were the subject of some attention. I don't think that is fair to our kids, I really don't."
"The issues that we have been presenting on, importantly, on the medical advice that we have had, remain the same challenges. It is still the case, and the evidence is, that the incidence of the coronavirus among younger people is far lower than it is for the rest of the population, and so the health risk to children is less, is our advice, than to other parts of the population.
"It is also still the fact that, if there were widespread school closures across the country, that that would seriously impact and disrupt the health workforce that is needed to save lives.
"And so that is a paramount consideration also of the National Cabinet. But we will continue to consider all of these issues based on the expert advice.
"We will do that in a calm and reasoned manner according to the disciplined process we have set for ourselves, which means we are all working together and being nationally co-ordinated in our responses."
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Originally published as Decision on school closures tonight