The Government has agreed to fund home-based childcare for children of essential workers who can't arrange their own care during the coronavirus lockdown.
It has made initial agreements to provide the care through home-based agencies Porse, Barnardos and Edubase/Home Grown Kids.
The three companies among them have more than 1500 home-based caregivers who have suddenly got spare capacity because all other childcare services must close from tonight.
Each caregiver's family will be asked to work as a joint "self-isolated group" with the family of the essential workers whose children they will look after.
The Ministry of Education has told essential workers this afternoonthat they should "use their existing networks for in home care, for example a neighbour, relative, friend or current carer/nanny who can come to their house, or provide childcare in their own home".
But it added: "If essential workers are unable to access childcare to perform their essential service, the Government will fund other licensed childcare providers (for example through Porse, Barnados and Edubase/Home Grown Kids) to provide in home care to the children aged 0-14 of essential workers."
"For the purposes of providing care to children of essential workers, the in home carer will be classified as an essential worker."
The self-isolated group of the child's family and the caregiver's family "must remain the same for the whole four weeks" of the lockdown.
"The caregiver's own group (e.g. their partner and children), your child and your own group (e.g. your parents and other children) become one group," the ministry said.
"This group needs to be limited to minimise any risk of spread and should be no more than 20 people."
The ministry said the group did not have to be registered and could be used to care for elderly relatives living alone as well as children needing childcare.
"In forming this group, everyone in it must understand how crucial it is to keep it tight and to an absolute minimum number of people," the ministry said.
"Even in a small group, people must take care of themselves and others through good hygiene, including thorough handwashing and drying, good coughing and sneezing etiquette and physical distancing.
"An example could be where an essential worker who is required to work, can have their child cared for by a trusted buddy, as long as they are not elderly or vulnerable.
"That buddy and the buddy's own household will need to be included as part of that self-isolating group.
"However, it is critical that the buddy and their household cannot then have any other external contacts. As soon as a member of that household has contact with another person (and therefore their household) they all need to be incorporated into the self-isolating group.
"Another example could be helping a family with care for their disabled child to give the primary carers some time to rest. But again, you need to be identified as part of their self-isolated group and you cannot have any other contacts other than those in your own household."
Porse owner Rrahul Dosshi, who also owns the Rainbow Group of childcare centres, said all of his 1200 home-based educators and also his 200 centre-based teachers were "100 per cent committed to help out".
All the centre-based teachers were police-vetted and available.
"The whole centre workforce is on standstill for the entire lockdown, only essential workers;' families will be looked after. There are no exceptions to the rule whatsoever," he said.
"Wherever the essential workers are, we will come to the party and do our part."
Barnardos Early Learning general manager Jo Lambert said the home-based care would be available for all essential workers' children aged under 14, the age at which children can be left at home legally.
"Barnardos Early Learning has 278 home-based educators across the country. However, not all will be available for work, and it will be by choice," she said.
"In addition, not all will be eligible to undertake this work because of underlying health conditions or their own family members with underlying health conditions.
"We are on standby to assess exactly how many educators will be needed to meet demand, again, working closely with the Ministry of Education."
Early Childhood Council chief executive Peter Reynolds said other centre owners were "a bit miffed" that the Government had done a deal only with the biggest home-based providers, but understood the need to move quickly.
"They have gone to the two biggies. That sort of sounds sensible. We are a bit miffed that they didn't come to us and at least acknowledge our system, but the reality is a decision had to be made quickly," he said.
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Middlemore doctor Supriya Cardoza, whose husband is also a doctor, said a nanny who looked after their youngest child aged 1 had agreed to look after their 3-year-old as well now that childcare centres were closing.
But she said several colleagues were still trying to arrange care after their nannies pulled out because of the risk of doctors catching coronavirus in hospitals.
Red Robin nanny agency director Julia Ross said "just a couple" of her nannies did not want to care for doctors' children because they were concerned for their own families.
"It's a worrying time for people," she said. "We are just trying to help them to understand that obviously essential workers are essential for the whole country."
• More on the lockdown: covid19.govt.nz