Help nursery schools avoid closing over infections among children, staff

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry / Central Gov’t Bldg. No.5, In Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan, November 3, 2020.

When nursery schools for preschool children are closed, parents and guardians are left with no place to leave their children, making it difficult to continue working. It is important to step up measures to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus and support these front-line facilities.

Amid the spread of the coronavirus, the number of new infections among children aged under 10 is also on the rise. More than 180 nursery schools across the country have reportedly been forced to close due to infections among children and certified nursery workers, among others.

Since the closure of nursery schools has such a huge impact on parents and guardians, the government has called on nursery schools to avoid suspending their services to the greatest extent possible, by taking thorough measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

However, children under 12 are still not eligible for vaccination, and wearing a mask is not recommended for those under 2 mainly because of a high risk of suffocation. As physical contact is unavoidable when caring for infants, it is undeniable that the nursery school environment makes it difficult to take measures against infection.

First of all, efforts must be made to prevent infections among nursery workers.

Since July, the Nagoya municipal government has given nursery workers priority in receiving vaccinations. Most of the about 10,000 nursery workers who wanted to get vaccinated have already received their second shots, according to the city government.

An increasing number of local governments are making similar efforts, but vaccinations for that purpose have yet to make sufficient progress. The central government should take the initiative in expanding priority vaccinations for nursery workers as well as all schoolteachers and other personnel.

If a child shows symptoms suspected to be from a cold, many parents and guardians may wonder if it is alright to let the child go to nursery school.

Starting this month, the Kanagawa prefectural government plans to start distributing antigen test kits, which can quickly determine whether a child is infected, to families with preschool infants or children, via nursery schools and other schools. It is hoped that this effort will lead to early examinations at medical institutions.

A system to fill staff vacancies should be established in advance to prevent nursery schools from having to close, in cases when nursery workers are infected or are confirmed to have been in close contact with infected people.

The city of Amakusa, Kumamoto Prefecture, has put in place a system to dispatch nursery workers from other facilities in the event of a shortage of staff due to infections or other reasons. The system covers 48 public and private facilities, providing subsidies and covering PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test costs for the nursery schools that provide personnel.

Companies need to make arrangements so that parents and guardians can readily take days off if the nursery schools attended by their children close. They should also respond to employees’ circumstances, such as by implementing flexible telecommuting.

The Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry intends to reintroduce a system in which parents and guardians who take days off from work for such reasons as the closure of nursery schools can receive subsidies directly. The original system was intended to help companies pay allowances to workers who were put on paid leave, but employees themselves could apply for the subsidies if companies did not use the system.

It is vital to make the restoration of the system widely known, so that many people can utilize it.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 8, 2021.