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UAE nurseries have been closed since March 1 as a precautionary measure against COVID-19. Picture for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: UAE Nurseries Group, which says it represents a vast majority of the operators of nurseries and early learning centres in the UAE, has highlighted several issues they face in the reopening guidelines for the sector.

The group on Wednesday said a meeting has been sought with the authorities for resolving these issues, many of which “threaten reopening and sustainable operations”.

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UAE nurseries have been closed since March 1 as a precautionary measure against COVID-19. It was recently announced nurseries will be tentatively allowed to reopen in October under reopening guidelines for the sector.

With no revenue or financial relief for more than six months, nurseries are struggling to remain operational.

Poonam Bhojani, CEO of Innoventures Education, which operates Raffles Starters and Raffles Nurseries, said: “Nurseries are an essential service in the UAE, as they nurture young children, ensuring their holistic development, while helping parents balance work and family. Reopening nurseries in a safe, hygienic way will not only support families, but also boost national agendas of happiness and residents’ welfare.”

Lama Chivi, CEO of Babilou Group Middle East and India, which operates 13 nurseries, said: “Parents and nurseries are happy with the reopening news announced by the authorities. However, the reopening guidelines to be followed cannot be met by most nursery operators. We hope to resolve this with a dialogue.”

‘Permanent closure’

The UAE Nurseries group said the reopening guidelines state that more than two cases of COVID-19 detected at a nursery would result in its permanent closure.

“No other business faces this threat of permanent closure on detection of cases. Schools and other educational institutions are allowed to switch to distance learning or reopen after closure and sanitisation when an infection is detected. Nursery operators are understandably wary of reopening when two cases, even if contracted externally, can close down their business and their life’s work,” it added.

Katrina Mankani, Managing Director, Jumeirah International Nursery, which has four nurseries, said: “Even before COVID-19, nurseries had strict hygiene protocols, qualified staff and age-appropriate staff-student ratios. It’s certainly important to review and tighten the protocols in the light of the current situation, but not to create barriers that make operations near impossible.”

Paying for staff testing

According to the UAE Nurseries Group, nurseries have also been asked to pay for coronavirus testing of all staff every two weeks, “unlike schools where staff testing was supported by the authorities”. The nursery operators contend that nurseries have now been closed for over six months and “should not be expected to shoulder this additional cost in the absence of any financial relief and uncertain cash flow, given that an October reopening is not guaranteed”.

Capacity constraint

Roshi Tandon, Managing Director, Chubby Cheeks Nursery, said: “We are enthusiastic to employ the best health and safety protocols across our nursery branches. However, some guidelines are inhibiting our sector from offering a fully comprehensive childcare service to the children in UAE. With many nurseries already closed and a further 50 per cent capacity constraint, our sector will not be able to meet the growing demand from parents. Unlike schools and Early Learning Centres, nurseries are prohibited from offering transport, which is an important aspect of our service. Our surveys reveal that parents are eager to send their children to nurseries and we are confident that early-years practitioners in the UAE are ready to take on their important role.”

At a glance: UAE nurseries reopening guidelines
*More than two cases of coronavirus detected at a nursery would result in its permanent closure
*Nurseries have been asked to pay for coronavirus testing of all staff every two weeks
*They have a 50 per cent capacity constraint
*They are prohibited from offering transport service
*The presence of a nurse is critical to reopening
Source: UAE Nurseries Group

Umair Tariq, CEO, Middle East and Africa, Kido Nursery, which has three branches in the UAE, said: “The reopening guidelines require further discussion, as the restrictions in terms of space, capacity, ratios, nurse requirements etc are punitive. There is still no financial support to the sector. With student enrolments already migrating to schools that are now open, nurseries are now being asked to operate with a restricted model. We request the authorities to engage urgently so the sector can reopen in a sustainable manner.”

Nurses needed

UAE nurseries said they supported the UAE’s efforts during the pandemic by deputing staff nurses to government health authorities, where they continue to work till date. The reopening guidelines stipulate that the presence of a nurse is critical to reopening. The UAE Nurseries Group said it has requested the authorities’ support in providing nurses to facilitate reopening.

Requesting support

Zeena Assam, Founder, Creative Nest Nursery, said: “A safe and healthy environment for our children and staff is our highest priority. However, the reopening guidelines are not aligned with international best practices or applied to other UAE sectors welcoming children, such as schools, malls, hotels and play areas. We request the authorities to align the guidelines with other educational and children’s entertainment sectors in the UAE.”

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Reena Dhamecha, owner, Building Blocks Nursery, said: “We salute the UAE’s dedication to supporting excellence in education. However, nurseries need pragmatic reopening guidelines. Our request to the authorities is to support nurseries just like they have supported schools.”

Mahnaz Vatanparvar, Managing Director, The Little Dreamers Nursery, said: “Nurseries provide a remarkable foundation for children’s education and development. For us to remain viable, we seek governmental support for a smooth reopening, just like other businesses in UAE. Otherwise, the whole nursery sector may suffer irreparable damage.”