On Saturday 27 November, the Prime Minister announced new temporary measures in response to the Omicron coronavirus variant. For early years and childcare settings in England, much of the Government guidance remains the same. However, there is a change to the isolation rules for confirmed or suspected close contacts of the Omicron variant as well as the use of face coverings in communal areas.
The Department for Education (DfE) has published a helpful blog setting out what these changes mean for education settings, including early years and childcare. We have outlined the key updates that PACEY members need to know below.
These temporary changes are due to be reviewed in three weeks and PACEY will continue to monitor guidance and keep our members informed of any changes. The PACEY Coronavirus resource area and FAQs remain up to date.
Contact tracing and isolation
The current rules around contact tracing and isolation remain as outlined in the Stay at Home guidance. However, any suspected or confirmed close contacts of the Omicron variant will be asked to isolate for 10 days regardless of vaccination status or age. These people will be contacted directly by NHS Test and Trace or a local health protection team and told to isolate and take a PCR test.
All early years and childcare settings should continue with twice weekly lateral flow testing, as usual. For settings that close over Christmas, staff should test over the festive period in line with national guidance (i.e. they should take a test if they will be in a ‘high-risk situation’ that day, and before visiting people who are at higher risk of severe illness if they get Covid-19). Staff should also take a coronavirus test at home in the evening or morning before they re-open in January.
The DfE has confirmed that Christmas plays, nativities and other festive events are allowed to go ahead this year with parents/carers attending on site. Settings should take steps to promote good air flow and ventilation in indoor spaces, and maintain good hygiene measures. Any parents attending the event are encouraged to take a lateral flow test if they are coming into contact with people they do not usually meet, and face coverings may be advised in crowded areas.
In some local areas where cases are high, local Directors of Public Health may suggest that festive events do not go ahead in person.
Face coverings and hygiene
Face coverings should be worn in early years and childcare settings by staff and visitors (aged 11 and above) when moving around the premises such as in corridors and communal areas. This is a temporary change in guidance in response to the new variant.
Early years and childcare settings should continue to follow the basic rules of good hygiene to protect against Covid-19 as set out in government guidance:
- washing your hands
- cleaning your surroundings
- covering your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze.
Young people aged 12 and above are now eligible to receive the vaccine. All eligible adults are encouraged to book their booster vaccine six months after they received the second dose.
You should familiarise yourself with the contingency framework for education and childcare settings which outlines additional measures that settings may be advised to take in response to local outbreaks and variants of concern. Your local public health team will let you know if these are necessary.
It is important to regularly review and maintain your risk assessments and policies as the coronavirus pandemic develops in England. PACEY has produced guides to support you to consider how you may implement any of the recommendations described in the contingency framework and create your own outbreak management plan. You can find all our paperwork resources including policy templates and risk assessments in our Coronavirus Spotlight.
We know that some PACEY members may be worried around the emergence of this latest variant of concern. We advise members to discuss any concerns with the parents, to decide what is best for all the families using your service. You can put in place additional arrangements if you feel it is necessary to ensure the safety of everyone in your setting.