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Coronavirus: Department seeks powers to issue temporary closures of registered childcare providers

But childminding and daycare are to continue for 'key worker' parents and vulnerable children

Twenty-two new positive cases of coronavirus has been confirmed in Northern Ireland.

The biggest daily rises yet bring the total number of cases in Northern Ireland to 108.

To date one person who tested positive has sadly died.

The total number of tests completed in Northern Ireland is 2,186.

The Department of Health says people with mild symptoms – new persistent cough and/or fever – should stay at home and self-isolate. They will not require testing and will not therefore be included in testing totals.

The daily update came this afternoon after the Department of Health had revealed it was currently seeking powers to issue temporary closure directions in respect of registered childcare providers.

Both day care and childminding will continue in Northern Ireland to meet the needs of parents who are key workers and vulnerable children.

The decisions have been confirmed in a letter from Health Minister Robin Swann to the childcare sector in relation to COVID-19.

Said Mr Swann: “These are challenging times for all of us, and I want to help to ease the uncertainty for day care providers and child minders by confirming that childcare will continue in Northern Ireland for parents who are key workers and have childcare needs.

“It will also continue to ensure that children who are vulnerable can continue to access childcare.

“I want to thank child minders and day care workers for continuing to provide a vital service for families and children across the country.

“My officials are developing guidance for day care facilities, child minders and parents, which will help to guide them through the coming weeks and months. This will issue early next week.

“My aim is to provide as much flexibility as possible within the boundaries of safe childcare.

“Childcare providers should continue to check the Public Health Agency website (https://www.publichealth.hscni.net/news/covid-19-coronavirus) for the latest infection control advice, including Public Health England’s guidance on social distancing.”

The Minister’s letter to the childcare sector reads: “The purpose of this letter is to provide an update on the Department’s COVID-19 response plans, as they relate to the childcare sector.

“I know that you have faced increasing levels of uncertainty in recent weeks, and I want to thank you for your patience and engagement with my officials to help us to develop appropriate solutions to these new challenges facing us.

“While the Department is seeking powers to issue temporary closure directions in respect of registered childcare providers in the COVID-19 Bill, I have taken a decision not to close childcare facilities or childminding services in Northern Ireland.

“This enables us to ensure childcare provision for key workers, including front-line health and social care workers at a time when they will need it most.

“My officials are in the process of writing guidance for parents to make it clear what is meant by key worker, for example. The definition as it relates to childcare is likely to be more limited than that for schools purely on the basis of space to care for children safely.

“Officials are also developing guidance for childminders and day care providers, which among other things, will advise on numbers of children, who you can accommodate and what we expect of you in terms of adherence to Minimum Standards.

“To help inform this guidance, I would be grateful if you could provide a swift response to the survey circulated by the Family Support NI team earlier today.We will provide you with as much flexibility as possible within the boundaries of safe care. I have already made a decision to suspend inspection activity. Everything all of us do in the period ahead will, of course, be guided by public health advice on preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“While you await this further guidance from my Department, I would ask you to ensure that at a minimum, you are operating in compliance with the latest Public HealthAgency guidance from Monday 23 March, including Public Health England guidance on social distancing available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/covid-19-guidance-on-social-distancing-and-for-vulnerable-people/guidance-on-social-distancing-for-everyone-in-the-uk-and-protecting-older-people-and-vulnerable-adults).

“I acknowledge that this will have financial consequences for you and we will take full account of that in decision-making.

“At this stage, I would encourage you to avail of the support which my Executive colleagues have been putting in place, such as the rates relief arrangements announced by the Finance Minister, and the continuity of financial support to individuals confirmed by the Minister for Communities. These are unprecedented times, and they call for unique responses.

“We have started to develop a bespoke approved home child carer scheme to bolster provision in settings. I understand this has your support.

“I thank you for the vital service that you continue to provide for families and children across Northern Ireland. Please continue to work with us as we seek to navigate our way through the weeks and months ahead.”

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