Too many unanswered questions to open Early Childhood Education centres safely under Level 3

21 April 2020

Crucial questions remain unanswered about the call to open Early Childhood Education centres under COVID-19 Alert Level 3.

“There’s an alarming lack of evidence that opening centres won’t contribute to community transmission of COVID-19, and a complete lack of engagement with the Ministries of Health and Education. How can we reassure parents their children are safe with us?” said the Early Childhood Council CEO Peter Reynolds.

In the news conference announcing the move to Level 3, the Prime Minister acknowledged that cabinet followed the advice of Dr Ashley Bloomfield in setting the opening of ECE centres in Level 3.

Dr Bloomfield’s quote below has been repeatedly referenced in special bulletins by the Ministry of Education on 17 April, by the Minister of Education in his Facebook live chat on 17 April and repeated in yesterday’s media conference.

Dr Bloomfield (17 April): “Our experience in New Zealand and overseas with COVID-19 over the last three months shows that it does not infect or affect children and teens in the same way it does adults. So children and teens have low infection rates, they don't become that unwell if they do get infected, and they don't tend to pass the virus on to adults.”

“We’re deeply concerned this viewpoint doesn’t match up with mounting evidence that children can carry, die from, and pass COVID-19 on, and that the Ministries of Health and Education are unwilling to engage with our sector on this issue. We’ve yet to see anyone from the Ministry of Health at recent education leadership consultations to put our queries to them directly,” said Mr Reynolds.

Two crucial questions outstanding are:

  • Why has Dr Bloomfield not addressed that the second largest cluster in NZ is a school with almost 100 cases, a quarter of whom are children. Why was there no acknowledgement of the possibility and risk of adult-child and/or child-adult transmission?
  • Why has Dr Bloomfield and the Government completely failed to factor the risks of possible ‘carrier’ effects by children, clearly a real and present danger, to ECE teachers, who simply cannot adhere to social distancing requirements and are fearful for their health, well-being and even lives at this time?

“Until these concerns are addressed directly through open and transparent engagement with the Ministries of Health and Education, we will continue to advocate for centres to remain closed until Alert Level 2,” said Mr Reynolds.

More information

The following are international and national cases and data to support ‘reasonable doubt’ on children contracting and passing on COVID-19:

  • 1 April - Director of CDC states up to 25% of cases could be asymptomatic which means the cases did not even know they had COVID19, but carried and transmitted it on anyway. Reference
  • 16 April - Germany is to ease its lockdown measures by allowing small, non-essential shops to reopen next week. However, social distancing measures will remain in force until May 3 and all large public events have been banned until the end of August. Under the measures, all shops of up to 800sqm in floor area will be allowed to open from Monday, provided they put in place hygiene measures. Schools will reopen gradually from May 4, with priority given to classes facing imminent exams. Kindergartens and primary school classes for younger children will remain closed as they cannot observe social distancing rules. Reference
  • 19 April - Why has Dr Bloomfield and the Government not acknowledged or highlighted the news about the three kiwi babies infected with COVID19, especially when this weakens Dr Bloomfield’s assumptive quote above? Reference
  • 19 April - Open letter to the Prime Minister by the NZ Early Childhood Council. Why has this voice of the largest ECE body in NZ and a 30,000+ signed petition gone unnoticed? Reference
  • 20 April - Professor Rod Jackson says if the Government is intent on going to alert level 3, children should not be allowed back at school Reference
  • 20 April - Dr Mike Bedford “Bedford said social distancing rules and regulations were simply not enforceable among toddlers, because caring for them simply can't be done at a distance. He also said one of the primary concerns is asymptomatic transfer of the virus among children and to others.” Reference

We are concerned Dr Bloomfield and the Government have not taken the following child deaths from COVID-19 into serious considerations, as presented in our open letter to the Prime Minister:

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