Childcare in crisis: London nurseries forced to shut as the virus soars through the capital

The early years sector is facing a crisis, standing alone on the frontline while the virus surges across London.

Nursery leaders are urgently calling on the Government to give nursery workers the recognition they deserve and allow free access to Covid-19 testing to prevent further cases among staff.

Parents and essential workers across London risk not being able to access childcare during the new wave of the pandemic, as nurseries are being forced to shut because staff are off sick due to the virus or need to self-isolate.

This London Early Years Foundation (LEYF) has closed or partially closed 14 of its 39 nurseries since the start of 2021 to allow staff to self-isolate – with many more set to follow. LEYF is also closing room bubbles regularly leaving parents without childcare at short notice as staff isolate at home.

With the announcement from the Secretary of State for Education that private Early Years providers will have to access Covid-19 testing through the NHS programme, rather than offer asymptomatic testing in each setting (as with schools, colleges, maintained nursery schools and primary schools with attached Early Years settings). This is a further discriminatory blow to the sector and will impact greatly on the number of children attending London’s thousand nurseries – affecting vulnerable children and those whose parents are keyworkers.

LEYF’s CEO, June O’Sullivan who has been campaigning for the Government to vaccinate all nursery and childcare workers as part of the Government’s list of 13.2 million ‘priority’ people and provide the routine testing kits for staff given to schools says:

‘This is a national scandal and totally disgraceful and discriminatory for the Early Years sector. In order for nurseries to continue functioning and provide a ‘lifeline of childcare’ to many front-line staff and a place of refuge to vulnerable children, Ministers must provide a level playing field when it comes to Covid-19 testing and also prioritise the Early Years after society’s most vulnerable groups and NHS workers have been given the jab. Many of our staff are aged over 50 (including those from BAME communities) which makes testing and their vaccinations even more pertinent. The latest reports are that coronavirus vaccines are being thrown away because people are not keeping appointments, it’s absurd that vaccines are maybe going to waste when they could help save the Early Years sector.’

One of the LEYF nurseries went from one to 22 cases in a week. Working on the frontlines, the staff are putting themselves at risk to care for the children and quite rightly society has a duty of care towards them.

A Government petition signed by over 469,000 people to prioritise teachers, school and childcare staff for Covid-19 vaccination was debated in Parliament on Monday 11 June. The Government is yet to respond.

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