Schools will be free to reopen playgrounds, contact sports and assemblies when they welcome all children back under alert level 2.

Early childhood centres will also be able to reopen their sandpits and let children play with toys that other children have played with, as long as everyone washes their hands.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said all students would be allowed back to schools and early childhood services from the Monday following any Cabinet decision to move the alert level down to level 2.

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Detailed guidelines issued by the Ministry of Education say that the strict level 3 requirements to keep children one metre apart indoors and two metres apart outside will no longer apply when the country moves to level 2.

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'Children, young people and staff should be far enough away from each other so that they are not breathing on or touching each other, coupled with good hygiene practices and regular cleaning of commonly touched surfaces," it says for schools.

"There does not need to be a specific measurement but where practicable 1m should be used as a guide, particularly between adults."

For early childhood, it says: "There does not need to be a measurable physical distance between children or children and staff. However, adults should where practicable use 1m as a guide between themselves and other adults."

This decision means that:

• "School playgrounds, sports equipment use and activities can resume. Contact sports can resume."

• "Outdoor play areas and equipment including sandpits can be used but children must wash their hands after use."

• Toys "can be used again if all children are regularly washing their hands and are staying home if unwell".

• Assemblies can resume because schools and childcare centres will not be treated as "mass gatherings".

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• School buses will return to normal schedules, but with hand sanitiser at the door, keeping seats close to the driver empty and keeping records of all students on each bus.

• Special schools, school hostels, before- and after-school programmes, playcentres and playgroups will all resume.

• Childcare centres can provide food again and schools can restart food programmes such as breakfast clubs and milk in schools.

Brothers Korban van Staden, 4, and Luka, 3, had teacher Nicola Jones to themselves at a Tauranga BestStart centre last week - but not for much longer. Photo / Alan Gibson
Brothers Korban van Staden, 4, and Luka, 3, had teacher Nicola Jones to themselves at a Tauranga BestStart centre last week - but not for much longer. Photo / Alan Gibson

The comprehensive list means that schools and childcare services will be almost back to normal, with only a few extra hygiene precautions and requirements to keep records so that all contacts can be traced if any Covid-19 case appears.

"Physical distancing is a good precaution to prevent the spread of disease. In an alert level 2 school environment, this means children, young people, and staff maintaining a physical distance so that they are not breathing on or touching each other, coupled with good hygiene practices (coughing into your elbow, hand washing and drying) and regular cleaning of commonly touched surfaces," the ministry says.

"There are situations where physical distancing is not possible, such as some sporting activities. In these situations extra emphasis on hand washing and drying (or cleansing with hand sanitiser) before and after activities and regular cleaning of equipment is very important.

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"In an early learning environment, it is not really possible to have a physical distance between children and staff. Young children require a lot of physical support and it is not possible to explain or maintain a physical distance between young children given the age of the children and set up of centres.

"This means good hygiene practices (coughing into your elbow, regular hand washing, and drying) are even more important."

It says educational facilities and school transport "are not considered mass gatherings because they are managed environments".

"This means there are no restrictions on numbers of people indoors or outside at schools and early learning services other than what other public health or health and safety measures require," it says.

"The exception is where people from outside the school may be attending, e.g. for a school production or school ball. In these examples and if a school is hiring out their hall or allowing community groups to use school facilities, the mass gathering rules will apply."

Playground such as the Royal Reserve in Massey (above) will be open again in level 2. Photo / Alex Burton
Playground such as the Royal Reserve in Massey (above) will be open again in level 2. Photo / Alex Burton

Resuming sports "relies on being able to contact trace who is on site during school hours and at school team training and competitions".

"Any interschool events that recommence will need to have a contact tracing register in place to record those playing for and against teams."

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In contrast to the country's last period in level 2 from March 21-25, when people over 70 or with vulnerable health conditions were asked to stay home, the Ministry of Health now judges that the virus is under control so it is safe for everyone to return to work unless they are sick.

The Ministry of Education says that includes teachers.

"People at higher-risk of severe illness from Covid-19 (e.g. those with underlying medical conditions, especially if not well-controlled) can return back to work," it says.

It says principals and centre managers "should talk to each employee in this situation and agree the safety provisions that will apply on-site".

"Employees who cannot return to work for health reasons should work from home, or be provided with alternative duties where it is safe to do so.

"If neither option is available, the board may choose to provide discretionary paid leave (at their cost) to teaching staff, or approved annual leave or other paid leave for non-teaching staff. Where no paid leave arrangement can be agreed, special unpaid leave can be provided.

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"Where a person is not able return to work as normal due to an underlying health concern they should provide you with appropriate medical evidence to support this request (such as a medical certificate obtained at the employee's cost)."

Jack Boyle says schools will need to hold conversations with teachers worried about going back to work because of age or health conditions. Photo / Ben Fraser, Daily Post
Jack Boyle says schools will need to hold conversations with teachers worried about going back to work because of age or health conditions. Photo / Ben Fraser, Daily Post

Post Primary Teachers Association president Jack Boyle said schools would need to have "conversations" with any teachers who feel vulnerable because of age or health conditions.

Meanwhile, the ministry has also confirmed that the indoor space required in early childhood education (ECE) will revert to the previous 2.5 square metres per child, down from 3 sq m during level 3.

However, a new ECE minimum temperature of 18C, raised from 16C for level 3, will remain.

• Official advice: covid19.govt.nz.

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