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Masks, panic and absent children: This morning, many parents feared dropping their kids at school.

When I dropped off my son for his first day of the school year this morning, it was pretty obvious that things were different. There were kids wearing masks in the schoolyard. The talk was all about coronavirus.

Late yesterday, the NSW Government changed its advice to parents on the virus. It requested that any children who have visited China in the past two weeks should not attend school or childcare until 14 days after their departure from China.

NSW Health has a message for Australians on coronavirus. Post continues below.

Video by NSW Health

But is this enough to take away the fear that parents are feeling right now?

At last count, this new coronavirus, which originated in the city of Wuhan, had killed 106 people, all in China. So far, there have been five confirmed cases of the virus in Australia, four of them in NSW. With the new school year starting this week, many Australian parents have been feeling fearful, especially those whose kids have classmates who’ve recently returned from holidays in China.

Wendy Woo is one of those parents. She started a petition asking the NSW Government “to enforce a strict restriction for all families who have recently returned from China to keep their sons/daughters at home for two weeks before attending school, kindergarten and daycare”. Woo’s petition has been signed by more than 10,000 people, and yesterday, the Government did pretty much what she was asking – only it’s a “request”, not a “strict restriction”.

Mamamia spoke to Woo today.

“The announcement is good, but a little too late,” she says. “I’m not sure how many people are actually reading it.

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“Parents are still worried. I just talked to one kindy parent. She’ll probably keep her daughter at home this week. Another parent told me she didn’t let her daughter go to school.”

Woo thinks there’s more the Government could be doing. “Close the border. All Australians returning from China quarantined for 14 days. Delay school start for another week or two.”

There are plenty of other parents who would have liked the Government to delay the start of school by a week or two. A petition, started by Kunal Chhabra, asking for just that, has been signed by more than 14,000 people.

The petition says parents are “very concerned” about their children’s safety, and are already discussing keeping their children home.

“We propose two weeks of extended holidays for the students, as it will give NSW Health Department along with NSW Department of Education some time to identify key places of spread and appropriate measures,” the petition reads.

Hong Kong recently announced it would shut its schools for two weeks to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Listen to Mamamia’s daily news podcast, The Quicky. The episode discusses coronavirus and how worried you should be about it. Post continues below.

The situation is changing day by day. Overnight, news has come through that people outside China are catching the virus from people who’ve recently been in China. There have been two cases reported so far – one in Germany and one in Japan.

Earlier this week, the World Health Organisation revised its risk assessment of the virus. It now says the risk is “very high in China, high at the regional level and high at the global level”.

Meanwhile, the Federal Education Minister, Dan Tehan, said on Today this morning that parents should be following medical expert advice – that it’s fine to send kids to school unless they’ve been in direct contact with someone who has the virus or is showing symptoms.

Is that really fine? Is enough being done to protect our kids, as well as the rest of the community? The next few weeks will tell.

Feature image: Getty.

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