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Covid spreads sharply; Child care centers remain closed

Child care centers (preschools) in Ireland will not be open until January 11 in the wake of the continuing Covid outbreak.

Minister Roderic O’Gorman said he had instructed all childcare centers across the country not to open until Jan. 11 as part of efforts to reduce the number of Covid cases in the coming days.

It has been suggested that childcare centers should be opened only from January 11 in association with primary and secondary schools.

At the same time, he said, a few childcare centers would be opened this week for the children of those in priority categories. These centers will be open in the coming days for the children of essential workers and children from vulnerable sections.

The government will also provide special guidance to the operators of child care centers regarding priority categories.

Early learning and childcare services are mandatory under Level 5 regulations under the government’s Living with Covid Plan. However, O’Gorman said the resumption of the ECCE preschool program would be postponed in light of the current situation.

More than one lakh children are part of the program in more than four and a half centers across the country.

Meanwhile, the minister also held discussions with the Early Learning and Child Care Covid 19 Advisory Group on December 31 regarding the opening of childcare centers.

During the discussion, members of the advisory group shared their concerns about sending children to childcare centers from early January. Subsequently, it was decided that child care centers should be opened from January 11 in connection with the reopening of schools.

Prolonging the return of children to the preschool program is expected to help reduce the spread of Covid after Christmas. The government has also decided to provide financial assistance for the program, which will be held from January 4 to 8.

Meanwhile, the Federation of Early Childhood Providers said the respective childcare centers would decide whether to reopen on January 4th. In addition, Group Chairman Elaine Dunne called on Minister O’Gorman to clarify priority groups. The Federation of Early Childhood Providers is an organization representing 1700 crushes and childcare centers in Ireland.

Dunne said all safety precautions would be taken to ensure that child care centers adhere to the Covid protocol before reopening. He added that the crushes may not open in areas with high rates of spread in the context of risk assessment during the Covid period.

Meanwhile, Childhood Service Ireland welcomed the decision to close childcare centers until December 11.

“We welcome the decision from Government this evening to postpone the reopening of pre-school programme until 11 January. The announcement that funding for the pre-school programme will be provided to early years providers for these closure times is also welcomed,” CSI Director Darragh Whelan said.

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