May 12, 2020 / 12:32 AM / 13 days ago

Australia's Victoria state to reopen classrooms earlier than expected

SYDNEY, May 12 (Reuters) - Australia’s second-most populous state will resume face-to-face teaching from May 27, weeks earlier than expected, after a school shutdown to halt the spread of the new coronavirus, Premier Daniel Andrews said on Tuesday.

The state including the city of Melbourne would take a staggered approach with teenagers in classrooms first, followed by younger pupils from June 9, Andrew said.

The Labor premier has been criticised by his political opponents for being too slow to reopen schools, a step seen as key to restoring the national economy which is heading for its first recession in 30 years.

The May 27 target date brings forward a previous government recommendation to keep Victorian students at home until mid-year, as new infections trend lower with seven new cases in the state in the 24 hours to Tuesday, according to official figures.

Victorian classes would resume starting with years 11 and 12, and prep grades one and two, Andrews said.

“With three students in my own household, all learning from home ... I know and understand this has not been easy,” Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.

“But it has made a profound difference, a profound difference to the number of cases that we have.”

Drop-offs and lunch times would be staggered, cleaning would be ramped up and all adults would be required to keep their distance.

Victoria is the last state to announce the return to school following national shutdown measures to contain the flu-like illness which began in China late last year.

Schools in Australia’s biggest state, New South Wales, reopened on Monday but only allowing students to attend one day a week on a staggered basis.

The state reported its first 24-hour hour period without a single new positive case after conducting 6,000 tests in the same period.

NSW and Victoria account for most of Australia’s 6,948 confirmed coronavirus cases and 97 deaths.

Reporting by Paulina Duran in Sydney; Editing by Stephen Coates

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