PRIVATE nurseries have been allowed to remain open throughout much of the pandemic as there is a lower risk of younger children spreading Covid-19, the Children’s Minister said as he responded to a letter purporting to be from a childcare practitioner.

Deputy Jeremy Maçon said that specific and additional measures had been introduced to reduce the risk of Covid-19 being spread in ‘early-years settings’ and that nurseries had been allowed to continue to operate because young children were ‘less likely’ to contract or transmit the virus.

Concerns have been raised that nursery staff have not been afforded the same level of consideration and protection as teachers and school-support staff.

The Deputy, who is also Acting Education Minister, said: ‘Like schools, early-years settings have been provided with guidance that promotes more frequent cleaning and handwashing, requires updated risk assessments to be in place and to be regularly reviewed to ensure children and staff are kept safe.

‘We also recognise that the risk to very young children and staff in early-years settings is lower than for older children in schools, and the need for children to experience a near-normal day in their setting is key to ensuring that their wellbeing and development is prioritised.

‘Younger children are less likely to contract or transmit Covid-19 because they have fewer of the ACE2 receptors that the Covid-19 virus needs to attach to in order to infect a person. This is why, in line with STAC advice, early-years settings have been advised to remain open, continuing to operate the bubble system that allows children to have an appropriate childcare experience.’

However, an anonymous letter, claiming to be from a childcare practitioner, has expressed frustration that such businesses have been allowed to stay open for much of the pandemic.

‘We have watched as other businesses such as salons, barbers and gyms were closed due to being in close contact with others,’ the writer says. ‘We have watched as schools closed for school holidays and breaks but teaching unions have called for longer breaks due to the risk to themselves and the children.

‘All this time we were going into work and doing a job where social distancing is not possible. You can try to limit the contact between staff but you can’t stop the children seeking attention from different members of staff and travelling from one to another, potentially spreading the virus. We deserve recognition for the work we have done in 2020 and the work we will continue to do in the months to come and even after coronavirus is over.’

Meanwhile, a government spokesperson confirmed that the Early Years Inclusion Team – which provides support for children up to the age of five with special educational needs – had ‘continued to deliver its services’ throughout the pandemic.

‘Throughout the outbreak of Covid-19, early-years and nursery settings have provided a vital services to families,’ the spokesperson said. ‘As well as providing day-to-day care, they are instrumental in progressing and monitoring children’s development and improving their life chances. They have remained open in line with the medical advice from STAC and based on the much lower risk of young children contracting or transmitting Covid-19.’

The representative also said that some of the services offered by the Early Years Inclusion Team had been scaled back, and that home visits had been suspended when the ‘Stay Home’ order was in place.

‘They have now resumed where it is safe to do so and in line with current public-health guidance,’ they said. ‘Small-group activity has been postponed to ensure that children with underlying health needs can be protected. School and nursery staff continue to monitor children’s progress against the benchmarks for their age and stage of development. Where children are not making appropriate progress, schools and nurseries follow a robust process of tracking, observation and planning to ensure they can reach the expected levels of development.’

By James Jeune



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