NZ doc encourages parents to keep babies and toddlers at home while Omicron spreads
The Sector > COVID-19 > NZ doc encourages parents to keep babies and toddlers at home while Omicron spreads

NZ doc encourages parents to keep babies and toddlers at home while Omicron spreads

by Freya Lucas

January 31, 2022

New Zealand-based early childhood health expert Dr Mike Bedford has said that parents should consider keeping babies and toddlers at home when the “inevitable” spread of Omicron happens.


NZ early childhood education centres remain open under the ‘red’ setting of the NZ Government’s traffic light system, however parents who can supervise their children at home are being asked to do so.


Given that children under five years of age are unable to be vaccinated, and that they are not required to wear masks, they are considered to be among the most vulnerable citizens. This, coupled with the “often very poor” air circulation in early childhood services, especially in confined sleep spaces, led to Dr Bedford’s concerns. 


“The infants’ and toddlers’ age group often spend more time indoors, and those spaces can be very poorly ventilated,” he told local news source Stuff NZ. 


“While it is correct that children are likely to experience much more mild illness than adults do, it changes with children under one year of age. They are the highest risk group among children, simply because they have a developing immune system.”


Dr Bedford also mirrored calls by Australian advocacy groups, asking the NZ government to commit to financially supporting services where enrolments and attendances drop because of COVID related reasons. 


Infectious disease expert, Dr Julie Bennett agreed, urging services to make ventilation their top priority. 


Natural, outdoor ventilation was best, but high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filters could be another option, she said.


Educator concerns mirror Australian experience 


Susan Bates, a NZ early childhood teacher and campaigner, said that educators are “pleading” for more detailed guidance. 


“Every bulletin that comes from the Ministry [of Education] does not mention early childhood teachers at all. We are not invited into any discussions.”


She believes an outbreak of the highly transmissible Omicron variant is likely to worsen the teacher shortage at childcare centres nationwide.


“There has always been a teacher shortage, and teachers are still leaving. If Omicron comes, 25 per cent [of] teachers are either isolated or sick, I don’t know where the replacements are going to come from.”


To read the original article, as produced by Stuff, please see here

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