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According to Victoria’s road map out of lockdown, next week my seven-year-old daughter will return to school two days a week, her siblings following in the weeks after.
The mood among parents is mostly one of impending celebration and relief: the anticipation of reclaimed lives, the return of peace and order in households, and the longed for normalcy for our children. But for some of us, a quiet unease ripples through the excitement.
More Victorian schoolchildren will be returning to school next week.Credit:Quentin Jones
The Victorian government has sought to reassure us that our children will be protected on their return by “The Three Vs”: ventilation, vaccination and vital COVIDSafe steps. This includes investing more than $190 million in initiatives such as air purification devices, shade sails to enable more outdoor learning, infrastructure audits and ventilation assessments to ensure that once schools are back open, they stay open.
Reassuringly, teachers are required to have received a first vaccination dose by October 18 or have a booking within one week, with full vaccination required by November 29 (unless a medical exemption applies).
However, parents of schoolchildren are not required to be vaccinated. Last week, this newspaper reported that Melbourne, my local government area, has a first dose vaccination rate of only 68.3 per cent.
In my suburb of North Melbourne, it’s even lower, with only 50-55 per cent of residents having received their first dose. This presumably means that only about a half of the parents at my children’s school and kinder will be first dose vaccinated.
Throughout the pandemic, the voices of our children have been the least heard as we have rightly endeavoured to protect our most vulnerable. My daughter is scared of returning to school. She is fearful of catching this illness that we have all tried so hard to avoid. That most children do not get seriously unwell from COVID-19 is of limited comfort to us both – so much is still unknown.
Her hesitancy will be further fuelled by the changed school environment which will be far removed from life pre-pandemic. There will awkward mask interactions to navigate, social distancing to manage and the absence of all the memorable bits of their schooling: sports, camps, excursions, assemblies and performances.
Despite my fears – and hers – next Thursday I will take my daughter from our cocoon and send her out into the world. Uncertainty at the school gates will invariably abound.
Should we be waiting for greater vaccination coverage? Will we end up with a vaccine-resistant COVID-19 mutation? Will the healthcare system be overrun?
In amongst it, I will hug her goodbye and smile as I bury my own fear. And then I will wait for that first sniffle she brings home and all the unease that it will invariably bring.
Because this is what lies ahead of us now: the endless weighing of freedoms gained balanced with its toll on life, health and the healthcare workers trapped in amongst it all.
Marisa Black is a freelance writer and can be followed at @marisa_black_writer
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