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ECE expert slams MOE, MOH for opening centres in Level 3

New Zealand’s only expert on health and wellbeing in early childhood centres has slammed both the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Education for opening centres at Alert Level 3 when it is “impossible” to protect those involved against Delta.

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Dr Mike Bedford said it was impossible for early childhood centres to instil safety measures against Delta. Source: Breakfast

The Ministry of Health requires ECE centres that can meet public health measures to reopen or else they’ll lose funding.

However Dr Mike Bedford, New Zealand’s only post-grad-qualified specialist in ECE health and wellbeing, told Breakfast there is no way early childhood centres can safely protect themselves against Delta on Friday morning.

“We really need to look at what are the conditions in centres, generally speaking,” Bedford said.

“Early childhood centres are well-recognised as being high-risk for disease transmission so I honestly can’t think of any environment that is better at disseminating infections.

“It is impossible to make an early childhood centre safe against a transmission of infection like Covid Delta – you simply can’t do it.”

Bedford said it was a major concern because the Ministry of Education has since released a statement on their website contradicting Bedford’s studies despite his request they don’t publish it.

The statement said that measures are in place to keep workers in ECE centres safe which Bedford argued is “impossible”.

“That is a categorically false statement and there’s no way they should have made it,” he said.

“They’ve attributed it to the Ministry of Health but to be honest, I’m not sure that that’s what the Ministry of Health would have said. It may have been edited but neither ministry should be saying we can use internal measures to make things safe.”

Bedford added that wasn’t even the worst of the current situation. 

“Parents should be worried about conditions in the early childhood sector overall,” he said.

“We have a sector that is currently crashing and it’s crashing not because of teacher pay – and I want to say that very carefully because I’m absolutely supportive of teachers getting paid better – but every teacher I’ve spoken to that has left the sector says it’s because of the conditions they’re working in.”

Source: Breakfast

Conditions Bedford noted those conditions included poor ratios, working space per child, crowded conditions and the noise.

“This is now the environment you are trying to handle Covid-19 in,” Bedford added, going back to his main issue.

“It doesn’t make sense.”

On top of all that, Bedford said the proposition of ECE centres being hit financially for choosing safety first was another poor decision.

“No centre should be forced to open by holding back funding – that’s really unethical. If they decide it’s unsafe, they should be supported in that.

“And no teacher should be forced to go to work in an environment where they have no protection and are put at risk.”

Bedford reiterated ECE centres should wait for lower Alert Levels before reopening. 

“We are dependent on managing community transmission so you can’t use in-centre controls anymore than you could in a crowded bar,” he said.

“You have conditions where you have no masking, very close contact and it is impossible to manage hygiene to an extent in those environments.”

Bedford had one last message for Auckland parents and others thinking of using ECE centres when they return at Level 3.

“Any statement that says the centres can make it safe in any level – 3, 2 or 1 – is a false statement,” he said.