Community transmission would likely see schools close by area - Chris Hipkins

Education Minister Chris Hipkins says if schools were to shut down to stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus then the Government would likely do so by area rather than nationally.

Hipkins was speaking on Newshub Nation on Saturday morning when he was asked why New Zealand has not closed schools despite 114 other countries doing so.

He says it is due to community transmission, which has not yet been confirmed in New Zealand.

"At the moment we don't have a community transmission in New Zealand and that is what we are seeing in those countries where school closures are taking place so we are not at that point in New Zealand."

If community transmission was confirmed, Hipkins says the Government will consult with medical professionals.

"The most likely thing is that if we confirmed community transmission in an area then the Regional Medical Offices of Health can close all of the schools and early learning centres in that area. 

"If it's more widespread throughout the country then obviously we have the option to close schools throughout the country. It's done based on actual risk."

At midday on Saturday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced the Government was assessing the risk of COVID-19 with a four-level alert system. 

The country is currently at level 2 where the disease is contained but risks of community transmission are growing. 

Schools would likely not close until the country hit level 4 where the disease is no longer contained.

Hipkins told Newshub Nation the decision to close schools would be made if they were advised by medical professionals.

"Look school closures are absolutely an option that exists in the tool kit and the decisions to close schools will be made based on medical advice so it's the Regional Medical Offices of Health who make that decision.

"We are doing it based on risk assessment and doing it based on the advice of health officials so where they believe there is increased risk for a school then, of course, they have the ability to close that school."

On Thursday 150 students from Dunedin's Logan Park High School were put into isolation and tested for COVID-19 after they were identified as close contacts for one of New Zealand's positive cases.

Hipkins says this is how similar situations will be handled during level 2 of the system. 

"What we are doing at the moment appears to be working. Of course, things can change and when they do change we will move very quickly but the focus on New Zealand at the moment is contact tracing."

He also says the Government is considering bringing school holidays forward and possibly extending them.

They then have to assess how children could continue learning if they were sent home for a prolonged period.

There is the possibility of an online correspondence school but there is still a significant amount of children that couldn't access it due to not having a device or broadband.

New Zealand currently has 52 cases of coronavirus after 13 cases tested positive since Friday.