Ms Joan Pereira asked the Minister for Social and Family Development (a) whether there are measures to prevent clusters of COVID-19 infection of preschoolers arising from households served with Leave of Absence (LOA), Stay-Home Notice (SHN) or Quarantine Order (QO); (b) whether the Ministry will mandate stay-at-home orders for preschoolers and staff with COVID-19 symptoms even if they have not sought medical consultation and hence not been served with LOA, SHN or QO; and (c) whether more support in the form of school fee relief can be provided to parents when children are required to stay home.
1. The safety and wellbeing of children and staff in preschools is of utmost importance. To ensure this, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) has enhanced safe management measures in preschools, in consultation with the Ministry of Health (MOH).
2. ECDA requires all preschools to observe strict safe management measures. These include:
a. Measures to restrict entry of persons that pose transmission risks such as by restricting visitors, more frequent health checks for staff and children, and disallowing staff, children or visitors on Stay-Home Notice (SHN) and Quarantine Order (QO), to enter the preschool. As an added precauation, ECDA introduced a Leave of Absence (LOA) policy for children or staff staying with household members who are on Home Quarantine Order (HQO) or SHN .
b. Enhanced personal and environmental hygiene practices such as more frequent handwashing and cleaning of high touch points.
c. Measures to reduce transmission across groups in preschool by ensuring that children and staff are cohorted by class and do not mix across classes.
3. Children, staff or visitors who display any symptoms of being unwell will not be admitted into preschools even if they have not sought medical consultation. Preschools will advise them to promptly seek medical attention. In addition, children and staff who report feeling unwell during the day will be required to leave the preschool immediately to seek medical attention. As a precautionary measure, preschool staff and children are also advised to stay home if any of their adult household members is unwell.
4. With the increased transmissibility of the new COVID-19 variant strains, ECDA recently tightened safe management measures in preschools.
a. For children and staff staying with a household member placed on QO or SHN, they will be issued an LOA and can return to the preschool only after the household member has completed serving his/her quarantine or SHN. From 8 June 2021, this requirement was enhanced to include issuing a LOA to children or staff staying with a household member who has to serve QO at a Government Quarantine Facility (GQF). The child or staff can return to the preschool only after the household member has been conveyed to the GQF and has a negative COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test result at entry into quarantine.
b. For children and staff who are placed on QO and were recently in preschool, the preschool will issue a LOA to the children and staff from the same class, if the child or staff placed on QO was recently unwell before the start of quarantine or becomes unwell soon during quarantine. If the child or staff placed on QO was generally well when he/she was in the preschool, parents in the same class will be informed and strongly encouraged to keep their children at home until the child or staff who is on QO receives a negative COVID-19 PCR test result at entry into quarantine.
c. Preschools will also issue a LOA to a child or staff who is undergoing mandatory testing, for example, the testing for all residents of a particular HDB block or workplace cluster due to potential exposure to COVID-19 cases. The child or staff can return to the preschool after receiving a negative COVID-19 PCR test result. If the child or staff’s household member is the one undergoing mandatory testing, parents are strongly encouraged to keep their child at home, if possible, until the household member has a negative COVID-19 PCR test result.
5. Keeping our preschool community safe and healthy is a collective effort. We urge parents to monitor their children’s health closely and seek immediate medical advice if their child is unwell. Children and staff who are unwell should stay at home to rest, and return to preschool only when they have fully recovered.
6. The Member also asked if more support in the form of school fee relief can be provided to parents when children are required to stay home due to LOA, QO or SHN. As preschools continue to incur costs for service provision and the situation varies from centre to centre, we will leave centres and parents to work out suitable arrangements for their children. To support parents who choose to keep their children at home, MSF and ECDA will exercise flexibility on an appeals basis to waive the minimum attendance requirement for preschool subsidies and Child Care Financial Assistance (CCFA) for families with valid reasons, such as for children placed on LOA, SHN or QO.
7. These enhanced measures are necessary precautions during these exceptional times to ensure that our preschools remain a safe environment for all children and staff. We recognise that the measures may inconvenience families and preschools, but it is important we step up precautions given the increased transmissibility of the new variants and there is currently no vaccine available for young children. We will continue to review and adjust our measures in line with the national posture, and in consultation with MOH, for the health and well-being of everyone in the preschool.
 For staff staying with household members under HQO or SHN, preschools may issue LOA to the staff or redeploy them to back-end administrative tasks. From 8 June 2021, this measure was tightened further such that preschools may choose to lift the LOA and redeploy the staff to back-end administrative tasks only after the staff’s household member under QO tests negative for their entry swab test.