Nearly 150 child care centers across the country have been closed under emergency measures because of an “immediate danger” to children touched by the Delta outbreak that has taken over the country.
The closure comes as Labor calls for more government help to help the child care sector survive the Covid-19 pandemic, saying families and centers are “bearing the burden” and the risk of centers that are permanently closing.
There are also growing calls for the government to formulate a schedule for immunization of children such as the evidence mounted about their role in virus transmission, with nearly 3,000 cases recorded in Australia in children under 10 years of age.
Information from the federal regulator – the Australian Children’s Education and Care Quality Authority – shows that 146 child care centers have temporarily closed “due to the immediate danger to children caused by a public health emergency, such as a pandemic. , and / or at the direction of their local health authority. “
The closed centers were mainly in NSW, with nearly 100 centers closed, including six in Dubbo, while 28 in Victoria and 19 in the ACT were also closed due to health concerns.
The federal Department of Education, Skills and Employment did not answer a series of questions about outbreaks in child care centers, saying only that a large proportion of the closures were in response to a direct or suspected danger. of Covid.
On Wednesday, NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant said delivery to child care centers in the state was a concern, and he urged people to keep children at home unless “really they need to “send to them.
“[We’re] seeing outbreaks in child care centers and that’s a feature we haven’t seen in previous outbreaks because the Delta strain seems to be more able to transmit in the childhood setting, ”Chant said.
“I made it clear that what we are asking the community to do is not send children into child care unless they really need to, and if they only work from home, that is not, in my mind, a reason to do so. That’s critical. “
Prof Alexandra Martiniuk, an epidemiologist at the University of Sydney, said the government should release more information about cases in childcare centers. He said parents need to assess the risk of sending their children into child care.
“Parents currently feel that child care and school are safe, and they need it, so they send their children,” Martiniuk said.
“We need transparency from the government that has data. It is only fair to families and parents and staff and childcare center owners to be aware of the number of child care centers currently closed due to exposure to a case of Covid – so people understand the real choices they make when they send their child into care, or attending work. “
He also said more needs to be known about delivery in child care settings, which have a nature that is likely to be ripe for contagion.
“It hurts me as a dangerous proposition to have a group of kids in a room with doors and windows closed to a group of workers and all the kids who might not have been vaccinated. That’s not ideal. people are more likely to get Covid if there’s a Covid case there. Delta is contagious. “
On Wednesday, the prime minister, Scott Morrison, said that the issue of child immunization is an important issue being assessed by the government.
The Therapeutic Goods Administration has already granted interim approval for Pfizer to be given to children aged 12 to 15, and the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization recommends it for those in the age bracket with underlying medical conditions and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
Morrison said Atagi was good at its consideration for the vaccine for all children in this age group, as states and territories discussed potential school-based immunization programs.
“The work is already under way on how to do it… and it’s not too far off my understanding. But equally we talk about vaccinating our children and I want to be sure about the medical advice we get. we’re about that. “
The centers are struggling
Labor child care spokeswoman, Amanda Rishworth, said the emergency closure came as the sector was also debating issues of viability as a result of the lockdowns, with waivers on fees for to parents but no extra government assistance is offered for providers.
While the government has allowed child care centers to waive interval payments for parents and still collect child care assistance, it has not provided advance payments as occurred in the long Victorian outbreak in last year.
Rishworth said the government’s position means insecurity for families and insecurity for centers.
“There seems to be real inertia from the government and I am concerned that as a result of them not dealing with this sector as a unique sector then families will pay the price,” Rishworth told the Guardian Australia.
Uniting Early Learning, which operates nearly 60 centers in NSW and the ACT, sent a plea for help to families on Friday, saying it was losing an estimated $ 120,000 a week.
The organization is urging families to lobby the federal education minister, Alan Tudge, and the NSW education minister, Sarah Mitchell for further help.
“The Federal Government’s decision to waive the space charge for children staying at home at this time is a welcome relief for families, ”wrote the letter from the organization’s head of early learning, Rod Nadwie-Smith. , said.
“(But) without NSW or the Federal Government providing this additional funding, our ability to keep our services open is threatened.”
Tudge’s office did not respond to inquiries from Guardian Australia about concerns regarding the viability of the sector and referred other inquiries to the department.