Abu Dhabi: The sudden suspension of nursery services in the UAE for two weeks to prevent the spread of coronavirus has parents massively relieved, and yet concerned at the same time.
While unanimously applauding the UAE’s health authorities for their decision to prioritise children’s health in the wake of Covid-19 risks, parents say they will need to find novel ways to keep children occupied during the day.
“My husband and I were already thinking we would keep our sons home from nursery for about two weeks and wait for the Covid-19 threat to pass. So this government decision is in everyone’s best interests, especially as young children still do not have a fully developed immune system,” Cynthia Darwish, 34, an independent consultant from Lebanon told Gulf News.
The UAE Ministry of Education announced Saturday that nurseries would be closed from Sunday, March 1, as a precautionary measure against Covid-19. The diagnosis of two UAE Tour technicians with the infection has prompted authorities in the country to amp up public health measures over the weekend.
Both her boys, aged one and two, attend nursery on regular days.
Keeping children occupied
“They are both very active boys and of course I need to occupy them now, so all the books are out and all the toys, including the ones I keep away, are accessible. I’ll let them expend all their energy, and in the meantime, I will shuffle my working hours to get the work done,” Darwish said.
Darwish, who works from home most of the time, does have a nanny to help out, and she added that her husband will try and come early on days when she needs to go out for meetings.
“I am just glad that the UAE Government is keeping us informed. I received five different messages from various departments and the nursery to explain the situation. This is what we need [in the face of Covid-19],” she added.
Flexible working hours
Karma Al Taher, 32, is also asking around to arrange playdates for her two-year-old daughter. The Palestinian-Jordanian marketing and communications manager said she will also work shorter hours this week, and for as long as the suspension holds.
“I have a full-time job but my managers have been very understanding. In the meantime, my daughter is at home with our nanny. My main concern is how she will keep my very active daughter occupied for the nine hours I am away, which is why I will work shorter hours,” Al Taher explained.
The mother-of-one added she has already been avoiding public play areas for a while, so the challenge is finding avenues for play.
“I’m reaching out to neighbours and other mothers for this. Fortunately though, we have a nanny, and I am just glad that the Government is taking such precautionary measures,” Al Taher added.
Busy time for parents
Households with two working parents have had to suddenly find childcare, with many reaching out to family members and friends. Stay-at-home parents, on the other hand, are now faced with entertaining and tending to young children.
“My four-year-old daughter attends nursery, and she was sad when I told her there would be no classes today. I guess I will be quite busy with her and my two-year-old for a bit,” Nell Relox-Smith, 37, a homemaker from the Philippines, said with a laugh.
Huma Tariq, 35, a senior manager at an FMCG firm, is off on maternity leave with her sons, a two-week-old and a three-year-old. The nursery suspension came as a bit of a surprise for the family.
“My husband is home with us as we settle into the new baby’s routine, so we will work together to keep our older son occupied. He is very active and loves being outdoors, so we will take him out to the beach or open areas when they aren’t crowded, like in the early morning hours. And we’ll let him play with our neighbours’ children or in the garden later in the day,” Tariq said.
School activities cancelled
Schools are meanwhile continuing to operate as usual, but the Ministry of Education has asked for all activities and fields trips to be suspended for the moment.
A circular from GEMS World Academy (GWA) in Abu Dhabi seen by Gulf News said all internal and external trip, competitions, festivals, events and activities have been suspended until further notice as a precaution against Covid-19, but that the school will remain open for all grade levels.
“We are in constant communication with the authorities and continue to receive direction regarding this issue. We are pleased to report that there are currently no confirmed cases of Covid-19 at GWA. We recognise that students will be disappointed by the cancellation of these trips, and empathise with this, and will do our best to reschedule when able. Our priority, as we trust you will agree, is to keep our community safe and healthy,” the circular said.
Dave Taylor, director of operations at Aldar Education, said all trips, mass gatherings like events and conferences, activities in the swimming pool area, and school assemblies have been postponed in the 18 schools it operates, in line with guidance by the Abu Dhabi Department of Education and Knowledge (Adek).
“In addition, our teachers are further educating students with hygiene routines, hand washing techniques and reinforcing the importance of washing their hands in line with the health authority guidelines,” Taylor said.
Pristine Private School in Dubai also sent out a circular to all parents announcing the temporary cancellation of all internal and external trips. Competitions, celebrations and activities have also been halted until further notice.
“The school continues to follow the advice and guidance issued by the Dubai Health Authority to recude any form of risk to our students and teachers. Parents are requested to refrain from sending their child/children to school if they have any flu like symptoms. Please note this is only a precautionary measure as safety is our top priority,” the school said.
Travel information circular
Meanwhile, the Dubai Health Authority has been circulating a travel declaration form among parents, requiring them to provide information about travel undertaken over the last month to China, Hong Kong, South Korea, Iran, Japan, Singapore or Italy. The specified nations have reported the most number of cases of Covid-19, including substantial transmission among communities.