16 March 2022

Changes to strict close contact quarantine rules 'a welcome relief' says early childhood sector

| Lottie Twyford
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The stricter quarantine requirements which were in place for early childhood settings have been scrapped, bringing the sector into line with K to 12 settings. Photo: File.

Staff and students exposed to COVID-19 in an early childhood or daycare setting will no longer be required to quarantine for seven days – and it’s a change that’s been welcomed by the sector.

Rules have now been wound back to fall into line with current requirements for the K to 12 settings.

That means anyone identified as a close contact will simply be required to return a negative rapid antigen test or PCR (depending on their age) in the 48 hours before they return to childcare.

Woden Community Service director of children’s services Vivienne Gould said it was a real relief to learn rules would be relaxed.

“It will make the administration of, and the way we manage COVID-19 much easier,” Ms Gould explained.

Previously, stricter rules were in place for early childhood settings due to the fact children aged under five could not be vaccinated and because there is often extremely close or ‘high-risk’ contact between staff and young children.

While this age cohort still cannot be vaccinated, Acting Chief Health Officer Dr Vanessa Johnston said this morning during an interactive Facebook live stream that because there hadn’t been a high uptick in cases or severe disease in young children as feared, she now felt comfortable stepping down from this approach.

Ms Gould agreed, noting that severe disease was rare in young children who contracted COVID-19.

Dr Johnston said she acknowledged they had “taken a very conservative approach” to the sector this year.

Dr Vanessa Johnston

Acting Chief Health Officer Dr Vanessa Johnston said she now felt comfortable stepping down the approach to quarantine in the early childhood sector. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

It’s understood that multiple consultation forums have taken place with ACT Health, the Education Directorate and stakeholders in the early childhood sector in the last few weeks.

Previously, a single positive COVID case attending a facility meant the majority of their contacts – in some cases, the entire class and multiple staff members – were classified as high-risk or close contacts and were subsequently required to quarantine for a full week.

This proved unmanageable for many parents who have had to take time off work to care for their young children who have been, in some cases, forced to quarantine multiple times since the beginning of the year.

“It’s also been really disruptive for the children and has made it more difficult for them to settle in each time,” Ms Gould explained.

The amount of paperwork required to be completed at daycares and childcare centres every time a positive case was recorded in the centre also proved a burden for staff and educators, who were also – in many cases – required to take on the contact tracing role to work out who was required to quarantine.

Now, Ms Gould noted, it will be a much quicker process and fewer people will need to be notified of the exposure. “It’s just easier to manage all round and it’s more sensible.”

Dr Johnston said as of this morning, it was her understanding that many parents had already received the updated health advice, and more would do so in the coming days.

An announcement about how free rapid antigen tests will be used in all education settings for the end of this term is also expected in the coming weeks from the ACT Education Directorate.

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