Singapore's surge of Covid-19 infections has left many pre-schools struggling to cope as more young children are hit by the Omicron variant.
Eleven principals and operators said that as more preschoolers and staff get infected, they are dealing with a dizzying load imposed by stringent, ever-changing health protocols.
In February, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) tasked preschools with identifying close contacts of confirmed cases for the health ministry and informing parents about cases.
Centres also have to ensure that children issued with health risk warnings (HRWs) have tested negative with antigen rapid tests (ARTs) before entering the school, among other things, they said.
Nanyang Kindergarten principal Magdalene Ang said the challenge grows when some parents do not inform the school that their children have contracted the virus.
“We have to be on standby 24/7 to handle submissions, contact tracing and dissemination of information to parents and staff,” she said.
To keep preschools safe, staff have had to prevent children from entering school premises if their parents failed to administer ARTs for those with HRWs.
Anglican Preschool Services deputy director of corporate services and Covid-19 coordinator Mabel Wang said one of its large centres has set up a separate queue for parents who have not provided evidence of administering an ART to their child.
The load of Covid-19 protocols and teaching is compounded when staff themselves get Covid-19.
Almost all the preschools spoken to said they are strapped for manpower, especially those without a pool of relief teachers.
Shirley Tan, executive director of Catholic Preschool Education, which oversees 10 centres, said: “The greatest headache is having a teacher test positive.
“Who’s going to look after these children? They are not like adults who can manage themselves.”
There have been instances when principals had to cook meals for the school or teach in classes because their employees are down with Covid-19, she added.
After four of eight staff tested positive for Covid-19 two weeks before Chinese New Year, Little Kinder Montessori director Yvonne Law had to stagger operating hours to keep one of her centres running without overworking those who were still healthy.
“We were very thankful that our parents were supportive and understanding; and that helped us ride through that period when we had a temporary manpower crunch,” she said.
Pre-schools also have to deal with frustrated staff and parents of children who are still required to be tested despite having recovered from Covid-19 without seeing a doctor.
Wang said: “It’s hard for them to understand because they followed national Covid-19 protocols and yet, because they do not have a doctor’s memo to verify their recovery, they have to continue to be swabbed and bear some cost of testing.”
Keeping track of changing regulations poses yet another challenge for pre-schools, which also have to deal with a barrage of questions from confused parents.
While ECDA’s guidelines are spelt out clearly, they change quite frequently – twice in the past two weeks – which can cause confusion when implementing them, the management team of Swallows and Amazons Kindergarten said.
Dr Richard Yen, founder and managing director of Ednovation, which manages 14 pre-schools and three franchised centres in Singapore, said some parents are still confused about why HRWs are not issued to those who test positive using self-administered ARTs, even though recent rules do not require them.
THE STRAITS TIMES/ASIA NEWS NETWORK