Coronavirus: Chris Hipkins faces grilling from Paul Henry over reopening schools, kindergartens under alert level 3

Minister of Education Chris Hipkins has faced a grilling from Paul Henry over his decision to reopen schools and early learning centres under alert level 3.

Students up to and including year 10 can return, but only if it's necessary. It's recommended they stay at home where possible. 

Hipkins says he's confident with the advice the Government's received from the Ministry of Health which deems schools and kindergartens safe to reopen.

"This is a transitional phase for us here at level 3 and there are wider things for us to think about. We obviously don't want to see the progress that we've made be undone," he said during an interview on Rebuilding Paradise with Paul Henry.

But Henry took issue with how easily COVID-19 could spread among young children if they're all together.

"That's the issue with taking vulnerable people. You're taking 10 preschoolers, each of them is part of a bubble of say five people, you're putting them in a room together where they basically will lick everything."

Henry added he was speaking to a preschool educator who says while you can sanitise centres completely, it is "impossible" to keep young children apart.

However, Hipkins stood by the advice he'd received from health officials and wants learning centres to monitor the size of their bubbles.

"What I've said very clearly is that we don't expect there to be social distancing in an early childhood setting, and we are expecting centres to keep their bubbles reasonably small.

"We've looked broadly at international evidence around this, and it includes the risk of young people bringing COVID-19 into an educational setting and spreading it to adults. The advice that we've got there is the risk is very low of that happening."

Henry believes there is a "phenomenal risk" of bringing children back to school while the virus is still in New Zealand, but Hipkins cited the low cases numbers and community transmission rate as a reason why education centres can open.

"What you've seen is that the rates of our new positive cases are getting smaller and smaller by the day, we're not seeing evidence that we've got community transmission in New Zealand. The longer that goes on for, the more likely we are to be moving more rapidly to level 2," he says.

He added that children are going to the same place and seeing the same people every day, so they won't be coming into contact with numerous others where the disease could spread rapidly.