An Open Letter from Chinese Early Childhood Teachers in NZ Re: COVID-19
16 March 2020
To Whom It May Concern
Recently there has been great concern over how cautions are taken against the outbreak of COVID-19 globally and in New Zealand community. The nature of our jobs means we work in close proximity with children and their whanau, which makes us vulnerable to coronavirus, and will in turn, expose those who we work with in great risk. As a group, we have the following concerns and propose, respectively, the following recommendations for relevant governing bodies, centre management and communities to be taken:
- We ask early childhood education providers to work closely with Ministry of Education and health authorities to develop and implement pandemic plans, specifying symptoms and quarantine times. For Ministry of Education to make it mandatory on a regulation level for children or employees with relevant symptoms such as coughing, fever, diarrhea, or being lethargic etc. to stay home. Send home or separate anyone who becomes sick as soon as possible.
- We strongly urge parents to keep children with symptoms home. We encourage parents to stay at home when sick, don’t drop off or pick up your children yourself. Family members who have recently returned from overseas that are under containment should stay at home, whether or not they have symptoms.
- Ministry of Education has clarified the need to respect individuals’ choice on mask wearing, as it is part of their cultural practice to do so to support their hygiene needs. We plead for everyone to be aware of the socio-cultural and psychological factors of mask wearing in East Asia, be understanding of the pressures the teachers who travelled back from quarantined areas may be under, and respect them. Their personal choice will not compromise their professionalism. For more information on mask wearing culture in East Asian cultures, please refer below.
- Daycare educators are at a higher risk of infection compared to general public. Getting sneezed, coughed, and snotted on is practically a consistent part of our job. Since we cannot have the best defence against the novel coronavirus, social distancing, we need more guidance from the MoE and MoH on how to reduce our exposure to coronavirus and protect ourselves.
- We request centres to assess the necessity for teachers to attend group gatherings and events such as professional development workshops, conferences, regional meetings etc. Consider postponing non-critical gatherings and events. Cancel events and meetings that require close contact with large number of attendees.
- For MoE to work closely with MoH to release documents that are accurate and up-to-date with information regarding COVID-19. The analogy between novel coronavirus with common flu is misleading, for example. Educate staff about modes of transmission and symptoms by sharing specific public health guidelines. Ignorance is not a bliss during an outbreak. Post the signs and symptoms in areas visible to all.
- Ministry of Education to help daycare centres to create emergency and contingency plan for possible community outbreak. If it goes to the situation when schools are required to close down, the same should be immediately (if not earlier) applied to early childhood centres, regardless of whether they are privately owned. MoE to release relevant plans for contingency funding to support centre owners in such situation.
- New families visiting or enrolling at a daycare centre should be requested to inform their travel history in the past 14 days.
WHO has declared COVID-19 a pandemic, and is calling out to us to ready our hospitals, protect and train our health workers, and last but not the least, LOOK OUT FOR EACH OTHER.
Thank you for hearing us out!
APPENDIX. The socio-cultural, psychological and symbolic implications of mask-wearing in China and the wider East Asian cultures - an explanation provided by us:
In China, it is not uncommon to witness people wearing masks to protect themselves from the polluted air. In addition to avoiding outdoor activities, wearing masks is the first and probably the most common safety precaution one can take to battle with particles present in the thick blanket of smog. During SARS outbreak in 2002, mask-wearing became the social norm. The mask symbolized a rule of conduct, an obligation to protect the wider community. Masks, today cemented in the east as a visual symbol of protection against continuing invisible threats, continue to be worn across East Asia as a gesture toward good hygiene, a symbol of reassurance. Although masks were never intended to protect the people wearing them, research shows they may help slow the spread of illnesses. In a study published in the journal PLOS Pathogens, for example, face masks reduced the amount of influenza virus shed into the air by more than two-thirds
ECE teachers in NZ who have signed this letter:
Comment contributed by a member:
Heather: "I fully understand the concerns listed in this letter and know we are all grappling with the need to work but the over arching need to self protect. We are taking all safety precautions that we possibly can, each staff member must determine for themselves if they are going to attend work or not and no hard feelings if they feel they cant come. The biggest issue we have is pay, unless the Government closes us down the center's don't get subsidised and without that most small stand alone centres don't have the money to pay staff for long periods of time. Most of my staff are older some of us have health issues, but we also need to get paid or we wont survive. I am a manager but even I don't know what to do!"