Mass closures threaten Early learning centres as Omicron takes hold

19 February 2022

Early learning centres endeavouring to stay open for children through the Omicron outbreak are disappointed with the lack of access to Rapid Antigen Tests (RATs).

89.5% of Early Childhood Council members surveyed were hoping to use RATs to manage Omicron infection in centres, while 96.2% believed it was the government’s responsibility to provide them.

The Government’s current Close Contact Exemption Scheme is a weak ‘Test-to-Stay’ regime designed to ration the use of RATs. If more tests were available, regular ‘Surveillance Testing’ of all teachers and children would be more effective, but seems unlikely given limited supplies.

“New Zealanders’ high vaccination rates have given the government time to get this right. I hope they use it to expand testing using RATs. I’m impressed with the Ministry of Business, Employment and Innovation’s scheme that allows early learning centres to keep operating where they educate and care for the children of critical service workers,” said Simon Laube, ECC CEO.

“It won’t take long at current rates before we’re looking at mass ECE closures. Smaller centres only need one or two teachers to be positive and they’ll have to close for long periods. A University study released in January showed education closures have a massive detrimental impact on children: widening educational inequities, poorer mental health, behavioural difficulties, social isolation, family stress, family violence, and food insecurity.”

“The ECC encourages the government to redouble their efforts to source more RATs supply well before winter months arrive. We believe better access to RATs will allow more centres to operate as children and parents look to get themselves through Omicron.” said Laube.

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