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An estimated 10 per cent of nurseries in the UAE have not survived the suspensions Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Around 10 per cent of nurseries in the UAE have closed business and the ratio could rise to 50 per cent in the coming weeks as the sector remains suspended since March, operators warned on Monday.

Speaking during a Zoom press conference, senior figures from some of the UAE’s biggest nurseries said while most other sectors have been allowed to reopen, nurseries and early learning centres have not yet received a timeline on when and how they can resume service.

They said if reopening guidelines are not received soon, more nurseries will be left with no choice but to shutter permanently.

The suspension of nurseries, schools and other sectors occurred in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. While schools have been allowed to reopen in September, and many other sectors are now open, nurseries remain suspended.

Monday’s Zoom panel included Umair Tariq, CEO of Middle East and Africa at Kido Education (formerly Safari Kid), with operations in the UAE, UK, US and Asia.

‘Not a sustainable model’

Umair Tariq

Tariq said, “I think it’s a bit uncertain exactly how many nurseries have closed yet, but we would say that perhaps 10 per cent have definitely closed across the UAE at the very least… If we don’t receive guidance for reopening in the next couple of weeks, and if we don’t receive guidance to reopen at full capacity, I think our estimation is at least 50 per cent of the nurseries could close down across the UAE because it will not a be a sustainable model.”

‘High redundancies’

Co-panellist Diana Zeidan, area director for Odyssey Nursery, part of The Kids First Group, billed as the largest in the UAE, said redundancies in the sector are “really high”.

She added, “For example, at our group, all the staff were still getting partial salaries since March. We don’t know if we can sustain supporting our staff. We had to let go of some of our team. It [the continued closure] is affecting us massively, especially as we don’t have yet any guidelines to re-open.”

‘No visibility’

Lama Chivi

Lama Chivi, CEO of Babilou Middle East, a global group which operates over 500 nurseries in France and Europe, and 12 in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, said currently operators have been given “no visibility about the possibility to reopen and when”. Chivi said while some smaller nurseries have had to close their business since March, others are facing a similar scenario.

She added that without a reopening timeline, “which no authority is in a position to give today”, a lot of other nurseries are finding themselves in limbo.

“So they don’t know, for example, if they are able to reopen in September and they are able to survive another two months and continue their business. But if they don’t open in September, businesses need to know they can’t survive till January, for example, and take that difficult decision to perhaps also close”.

School option

As a result of the “uncertainty” over nurseries, many parents “would go for the school option, which is more certain, and take their child out of the nursery setting at the age of three and take that decision for September, which has a huge impact on the nursery sector again”.

The speakers mentioned examples of various countries that have allowed nurseries to reopen while supporting them financially during the lockdown. They said nurseries in the UAE are also prepared to reopen while following all safety rules. Their surveys show most parents would like to resend their children to nurseries.

Shaun Robison

The session was moderated by Shaun Robison, Governor, IDEA Nursery. Robison said the session raised awareness about the concerns of nursery leaders and staff “who are passionate about living and working in the UAE and want to share our voice”.

Working parents

He added that due to the financial impact of the pandemic, both parents will be looking to work from September in the majority of households. “Childcare and nursery provision is a natural consequence of that. To support the workforce, you need a high quality early year provision,” Robison said.

“Unfortunately, if nurseries don’t open in September… largely it will be the women who are left to care for the children, for the very young children who won’t be able to go to the school.”