ECC calls for open discussion on COVID-19 carrier transmission

05 May 2020

“Stop playing Russian roulette with our children” was the Early Childhood Council CEO Peter Reynolds’ message to the Epidemic Response Committee today.

Invited to share an Early Childhood Education sector perspective, Mr Reynolds has called for open and transparent discussion on COVID-19 carrier transmission, and better engagement between the Ministries of Health and Education to help reassure nervous parents and providers.

“We understand that pragmatically, the risk of contracting the virus is low in New Zealand right now – but too much is being done on trust and inconclusive evidence.”

“Can children get it? Can they pass it on? We don’t need a sales job, but a discussion and realistic view of the risks, along with reassurance on what we’re doing to fix it,” said Mr Reynolds.

Just over half of ECC member centres surveyed have opened under Level 3, with 73% saying they felt ‘Only OK, or concerned’ about opening during the pandemic.

“ECE centres are one sector of many at the coal face of a virus we’re still learning about – no-one knows when it might come in the front door. Parents are naturally nervous and need assurance, our members need information we can share with them.”

“26% of our members surveyed say carrier transmission is their greatest concern, with ‘contact tracing’ and ‘certainty around funding’ sitting on 15% each,” said Mr Reynolds.

Mr Reynolds highlighted the bureaucratic burden being asked of all ECE centres, and the financial pressure facing their small businesses.

“Open or closed, centres are being asked to complete manual daily reports with the number of children attending, and for all children’s details to be re-entered so they can be sent at-home learning packs.”

“These may seem like small issues, but they build up at a time when services already have to operate with low numbers of children, staffing levels and the additional health and safety requirements.”

“We’re asking the Ministry of Education to give ECE centres clear, practical guidance, not more homework, so we can start planning for Levels 2, 1 and beyond as soon as possible,” said Mr Reynolds.

With centres relying on funding continuing and wage subsidies to survive, the loss of parent fees and MSD childcare payments remain significant challenges to staying viable.

“Like many New Zealand small businesses, lockdown has been about survival and keeping your centres’ doors open for the sake of staff and the parents and children they care for.”

“Late last year we were campaigning for increased ECE funding, split between teachers and centres - we hope that support for ECE centre and small businesses won’t be forgotten as we start rebuilding our post-COVID-19 economy,” said Mr Reynolds.

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