2019-nCoV is a Public Health Emergency – what does that mean for ECEC?

by Freya Lucas

February 03, 2020

The unfolding international novel coronavirus situation, the correct term for which is 2019-nCoV, has caused some concern within the early childhood education and care (ECEC) community, with a number of educators and providers seeking guidance as to the best ways to ensure the safety of children in their care. 

 

As of Friday morning, 31 January 2020, nine cases of 2019-nCoV have been confirmed in Australia: two in Queensland, three in Victoria, and four in New South Wales. Approximately 7,834 confirmed cases of 2019-nCoV, and 170 deaths have been reported globally – a 2.17 per cent fatality rate. 

 

With the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) International Health Regulations Emergency Committee declaring the outbreak of 2019-nCoV a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, Australian health authorities continue to monitor and test any people who show symptoms of the virus, and are following the recommendations suggested by WHO, describing their approach as “highly precautionary”. 

 

On Friday afternoon, the Australian Government Department of Health advised that they are taking the following measures in response: 

 

  • Australia remains vigilant about this virus and how it is developing.

 

  • We are very well prepared. We already have in place border, isolation, surveillance and case tracing mechanisms.

 

  • Our health emergency response arrangements are flexible and scalable. They will be tailored to respond to the situation as we learn more about the virus and how it spreads.

 

The following advice, pertaining to ECEC, has been provided by the Australian Government, and was correct at the time of publication:

  • People who have been in contact with confirmed novel coronavirus cases must be isolated in their home for 14 days after exposure.
  • Returned travellers who have been in Hubei Province of China must be isolated in their home for 14 days after leaving Hubei Province other than for seeking individual medical care.

 

The New South Wales Government has requested that children who have visited China in the last two weeks not attend school or childcare services until 14 days have lapsed from their date of departure from China.

 

Health Minister Brad Hazzard and Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said although the risk to children is very low, the NSW Government has taken this step as a precautionary measure.

 

“I’ve been advised that it’s not medically necessary, but the NSW Government has acted in line with community expectations to ensure the safest possible environment for our students,” Mr Hazzard said.

 

Ms Mitchell said the Department of Education has issued guidance to schools and childcare services across NSW on protocols in the event of a child becoming sick.

 

“Although the risk remains very low for children, we believe it is the right thing to do to take this extra step and will continue to update the community with advice,” Ms Mitchell said.

 

Those working in the ECEC sector, who want to remain abreast of continuing developments in relation to 2019-nCoV are asked to review the coronavirus landing page which is updated as new information comes to hand. 

 

Anyone who is feeling unwell is asked to visit HealthDirect for more information about symptoms. People with serious symptoms – a fever, cough, difficulty breathing, sore throat, tiredness – who have been exposed to someone with a confirmed case of 2019-nCoV should call 000 and advise of their exposure, the Department of Health said. 

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