Abu Dhabi: Nurseries across the UAE have hit the ground running to meet all the reopening requirements, following the announcement last week granting approval for the resumption of nursery services under special precautionary measures.
Speaking to Gulf News, operators said they were signing up for online trainings as they worked to figure out the organisation of bubbles and contacted parents for the upcoming resumptions.
“The reopenings are great news and we feel we are being recognised as an industry. There is a lot to get done, however, as we work to fulfil all the regulations towards a safe opening,” said Lama Chivi, chief executive officer for Middle East and India at Babilou Group. The group runs 12 nurseries in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, including Blossom Nursery and Seashells Nursery.
Nursery managers in Dubai said they had been given October 4 as a tentative date for reopening. "But this is subject to approval of all our procedures from the authorities, so we haven't informed parents about the acutal reopening timeline," said one of them.
Nurseries were some of the first institutions to be shut down in March as a precaution to limit the COVID-19 outbreak in the UAE. Since then, operators were seeking the necessary guidelines for reopening and a petition earlier this month highlighted the issue of rising costs in view of the shutdowns.
Last Thursday, the National Emergency, Crisis and Disaster Management Authority, Ministry of Education and Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek) approved the reopenings of nurseries.
Guidelines published in Abu Dhabi have specified that all staff members must undergo mandatory COVID-19 tests and online training and also obtain a no-objection certificate from Adek.
There will also be daily health screenings for all staff and children and strict hygiene and handwashing guidelines will be implemented. Children who are unwell cannot return to the nurseries.
In Dubai, nurseries have been allowed to operate at 50 per cent capacity.
In Abu Dhabi, the maximum number of children enrolled will depend on the amount of space available, with one child per 3.5 square metres of space indoors and one child every five square metres outdoors.
Children will also be cared for in bubbles, with those upto two years old organised in a group of eight and those between two and four years managed in bubbles of ten, according to Adek. Staff designated to a particular bubble will not be allowed to mix.
Inspectors will also periodically drop in at nurseries to ensure compliance with health and safety measures.
For their part, parents must inform nurseries about the health of their children and provide information to the nursery if a child has been in contact with anyone suffering from COVID-19.
Corinne Glauser, manager at The Wonder Years nurseries, said she was happy to have better direction on future operations since the reopening announcement. The nursery had 160 enrolled children and 24 staff members, prior to the closures in March.
“We do, however, need some guidelines on how to manage children who are very small with physical distancing and how to comfort a crying child. We have signed up for online training for managers and supervisors next week and we hope these issues will be clarified then,” she said.
Need for financial support
Some smaller nurseries, however, said they still required financial support, given the extended period of closure that has left them withe no revenue.
“We have to pay rent, with no relief from our landlord. At the same time, licensing fees are due without any discount and we have still not been able to collect any fee from the parents. So while we are delighted to hear about the reopening, we hope we will receive some financial support from the authorities,” said a manager at a long-standing Dubai-based nursery.
Parents welcome reopenings
Meanwhile, many families with young children have welcomed the upcoming reopenings.
Cynthia Darwish, 34, a Lebanese media consultant, said she would be happy to send her sons, aged three and one, back to a nursery.
“My boys had to be home for nearly a year and I am afraid the hands-on education wasn’t enough to keep them occupied, especially now that we are all back to work as parents. I had my fingers crossed [waiting for a reopening announcement, especially as I am sure the authorities will ensure children’s safety],” she said.
Another mother said the closures have been very tough even on stay-at-home mothers with young children, especially those who have no help at home.