As a healthcare worker, Shazeli Osman was acutely aware of the risks and ramifications of COVID-19.
Key points:The number of COVID-19 cases linked to the Al-Taqwa College is approaching 150The outbreak is causing some people to question whether it is safe for schools to be openVictorian state schools are returning for term 3 but Al-Taqwa College remains closed
But in late June, he received a text message from Al-Taqwa College informing his family his 12-year-old daughter, Hannah, had come into close contact with someone who had tested positive at the school.
It thrust his family into the reality of being among one of the biggest outbreaks in Victoria’s second wave of the deadly virus.
At that point, Hannah was not displaying any symptoms but his 17-year-old daughter Nahili, a student at nearby Tarneit Senior College, was.
“There was a little bit of concern on that Saturday, you know, she was a bit congested and whether she’s got a chest infection or not,” Mr Osman told 7.30.
“I said, well, you know, let’s actually go and get tested.”
Coronavirus latest: Follow all the latest information in our COVID-19 update storyThe Al-Taqwa cluster Nahili Osman was isolated in her room for 10 days.(ABC News)
The family’s test results trickled in over four days.
Hannah received her negative result on Tuesday but on Wednesday Nahili received the news she had tested positive.
By that stage, Nahili had begun to recover from the tell-tale symptoms of the virus but a period of self-isolation was still necessary.
“We managed to actually give her a single room, as well as her own toilet and bathroom and the rest of us used the other toilet and bathroom,” Mr Osman said.
The family supported Nahili through her isolation, with her sister cooking her favourite meals and dropping them off at her room.
But her diagnosis, and the family’s link to the Al-Taqwa College outbreak, has meant the entire family of seven has been housebound.
The cluster at the college has grown steadily since families were first notified just over two weeks ago.
It is believed to have started with a grade six teacher, who is thought to have contracted the virus at a family gathering, and it has spread rapidly to staff and students.
At this stage, 147 cases have been linked to the school.
Figures provided to 7.30 by Victoria’s Department of Health show 76 of those cases are students, 28 are staff, 16 are close contacts and 27 remain under investigation.
Farnoush Nia works at the Forsyth Park Medical Clinic just down the road from Al-Taqwa.
As news of the outbreak spread, calls from a concerned community started to flow in.
“I would say maybe about 200 or 220 people contacted us in this regard and they were all people — the staff, teachers, family members, students — who were worried and they wanted to get swabbed,” Dr Nia said.
‘Worrying for any parent’ The Razvi children, (left to right) Hasan, Maryam, Hamza and Hussain, were all tested for COVID-19.(Supplied: Waseem Razvi)
Waseem Razvi and his family were among those people who rushed to get tested.
He has four children at Al-Taqwa College and the family lives right around the corner from the school.
“Any parent with children at any school, it would be quite worrying for them to hear that the school had an outbreak,” Mr Razvi said.
So far, Mr Razvi’s children have been tested twice and all have returned negative results.
But on the advice of the school, they also isolated as a precaution.
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Like Mr Osman, Mr Razvi was comfortable with the measures put in place by the school itself.
“Al-Taqwa, from my experience, went far and beyond that [required],” he said.
“They immediately sent us notification before the start of term two that all the parents who are going to drop kids are going to not come out of their cars, they’re going to drop kids at a safe location and drive away.
“Every single child, every single day in the morning, [had] a temperature check before they were let in the school.
“And I also know that in every classroom they had the soap available at the entrance, the sanitisers.
“Every time a child went out of the class and came in they had to use the soap and sanitisers.”
He believes the failures were at both state and national government levels, and schools should not have reopened at the point they did.
“The Prime Minister continuously repeated this phrase that the schools are safe for kids to go back,” Mr Razvi said.
“The state Premier said the same thing. The Department of Health repeated the same thing.”
Paediatrician says schools should stay closed for entire lockdown More than 100 coronavirus infections have been linked to Al-Taqwa College.(ABC News: Gemma Hall)
Al-Taqwa’s principal Omar Hallak declined to be interviewed but the school did respond to a list of questions.
“We were formally advised that a member of staff had tested COVID-19 positive on Saturday, 27 June 2020,” the college said in the statement.
“This was a day after the end of Term 2 and students have not attended the college since.
“That staff member was tested on Tuesday 23 June 2020, and she was absent from work for the rest of that school week.
“The college immediately advised parents, guardians and staff in an emailed letter on 27 June.”
It is still not clear when the college will reopen.
“Subject to the guidelines and instructions of the Victorian Government Departments of Health and Human Services, and Education and Training, the college is planning to reopen for face-to-face learning,” the statement said.
“We are currently finalising our reopening plans and will be advising parents in the next few days.”
Year 11 and 12 students returned to Victorian state schools on Monday, with prep to year 10 students returning to remote learning next week.
Children from prep to year 10 in the Melbourne metropolitan area and Mitchell Shire, north of Melbourne, will start their school term a week later than scheduled, on July 20.
Children of essential workers and those with a disability will be allowed to attend school, as they did during the first lockdown.
Sarath Ranganathan, head of the Paediatrics Department at the University of Melbourne, believes schools should remain closed for the entirety of the lockdown.
“At the moment, it’s too risky to keep schools open and that balance has shifted towards locking the schools down again,” he said.
But even he acknowledges the current set up is not ideal for the students themselves.
“I think it’s really hard at home for kids to adjust to this sort of stop-start lockdown,” Professor Ranganathan said.
“I know from my own experiences as a parent, we’re almost at the point where we’re sort of writing off a little bit of the last term of education.”
Stay up-to-date on the coronavirus outbreakCoping with study in a time of COVID Noor Ul Ain (right) and her father Touqeer Balouch (left) have had to adjust to her learning from home.(ABC News)
That prospect is a daunting one for year 12 Al-Taqwa student Noor Ul-Ain.
Noor has tested negative for COVID-19 but the situation has been a frightening one for her and her friends.
“I know quite a lot at my school and my year level as well, they’ve tested positive,” she said.
“I’ve talked to a few as well. I’ve told them that it’s alright, just stay calm.”
Beyond the initial fear of contracting the virus, the lockdown has made studying difficult.
And there is the social factor as well.
“It’s quite stressful,” Noor said.
“Every year 12 [student] wants to be with their friends because they’re all going to go apart after year 12.”
‘We need to be vigilant’ Shazeli Osman says the current COVID-19 outbreak is a wake-up call.(ABC News)
At the Osman household, Nahili finished her self-isolation period on Monday night.
The family celebrated with a large dinner but they still have a few more days of isolation before they join the rest of Victoria in the state’s stage three lockdown.
“I think it will actually give us that wake up as to how we curb it,” Mr Osman said.
“We need to be vigilant, we need to be alarmed, but we need to actually focus on how we can, as a community, how we can actually control this.”
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