The Ministry of Education is spelling out how the phased reopening of Auckland will work for early learning centres.
Early learning services will be open to all parents, not just those who must work and cannot find another care option for their child, according to a bulletin sent out to early learning centres last night.
Children must stay in bubbles of 10 but there is no limit on the number of bubbles as long as the provider can fit them in safely, Secretary of Education Iona Holsted wrote in the bulletin.
Further guidance is expected this morning from the ministry on vexing questions like how centres are meant to keep bubbles of small children from mingling.
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So far young children appear to be unlikely to get seriously ill from Covid-19 but they can still catch the virus.
Of the 1357 cases in the latest Delta outbreak, 245 - about one person in five - was a child under the age of nine.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said yesterday that early childhood education would reopen as part of the three-step plan to transition Auckland out of level 3 "safely and carefully".
Limits of groups of 10 in a bubble and infection control processes should keep the situation low-risk, she said.
She said parents must wear masks for pick-ups and drop-offs, and teachers were encouraged to be vaccinated and get tested regularly. Options for less invasive surveillance testing would also be looked at.
Leaders in the early learning sector have called for more clarity, with one "frustrated" early childhood provider being told "nothing changes" when reopening in level 3.
Deputy Prime Minister Grant Robertson admitted this morning on the AM Show that it would be hard to keep kids from interacting with each other - although he was speaking about playdate settings rather than early learning centres.
He also told TVNZ's Breakfast that the education ministry was looking at the possible need to mandate vaccinations among teachers, though he didn't specify early learning teachers.
NZEI Te Riu Roa president Liam Rutherford told Mike Yardley on Newstalk ZB this morning that some early learning providers were keen to reopen but others worried about whether there were adequate health and safety measures in place.
There was some confusion that the move was "opening up the floodgates" but it was just bubbles of 10, he said.
As for vaccination rates amongst teachers, they hadn't been prioritised throughout the process but there were some teachers that weren't vaccinated and who would be around children.
Vaccination rates were not kept for each occupation, but the union was encouraging everyone to get their jabs.
Teachers and anyone else who works in a school has been eligible for priority vaccination since early September.
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Ministry: Exact number will depend how many bubbles fit at each centre
In a bulletin sent to ECE leaders last night, Secretary for Education Iona Holsted said from Wednesday more children could be welcomed back to daycare and kindergarten settings.
"The exact number you can accept will depend on how many bubbles of 10 children you can fit within your centre, while continuing to meet the existing alert level 3 requirements," she said.
That was a change from the current alert level 3 settings.
"In our current alert level 3, children have been going to early learning services where their parents or caregivers have to go to work and there are no options to care for them at home.
"However, public health believe that with the right precautions in place (limiting the size of groups to 10 children within a bubble and maintaining strict infection, prevention and control), the risk posed by the return of children to early learning services is low."
The Prime Minister had encouraged people working in the sector to get tested, Holsted wrote.
"We have heard that many parents will want to be confident that it is safe for their children to come back, so being able to tell them that all staff have tested negative would be great."
Earlier in the evening, Early Childhood Council acting CEO Sue Kurtovich had put out a statement asking for clear guidance on managing centres, saying there was very little time left before they reopened and they wanted to put parents' minds at rest.
"No-one's done this before - providers need clear guidance on managing the health risk, and preparing their staff and parents," she said.
"To reassure parents and teachers, we want clear, timely advice from the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health, unlike previous level changes."
The Ministry has promised further information will be sent out this morning.