Parents, workers crave childcare certainty

·3-min read

Mei Lee and her husband were shocked when they learned two weeks ago that their two-year-old had been exposed to COVID-19 while at childcare.

The couple had been constantly thinking about the risk while sending their daughter to the centre in Sydney's Marrickville.

But with low case numbers in the inner west and both parents working from home, the number of cases they'd decided would be their threshold to pull her out - 250 in a day - came and went.

"We thought we could push it," she told AAP.

The NSW government is now strongly encouraging Sydney parents to keep their children at home.

But parents and workers say the government is not publishing enough information about the coronavirus risk.

They want clearer guidance, instead of being left to make very difficult choices on their own.

NSW Health told AAP that 121 cases recorded between mid-June and last Sunday have been associated with childcare centres.

Some 32 childcare workers picked up the virus at work. The other 89 cases are associated with attending a centre.

The exposure at Ms Lee's centre forced her family to isolate for two weeks and pull their daughter out of childcare, but they still don't know if anyone else caught the virus from the centre.

NSW Health does not publish details of individual outbreaks at childcare centres.

The spokesperson said the agency doesn't disclose details about venues of concern unless there is a public health reason to do so.

"NSW Health takes proactive steps to contact all close contacts of the case, to give advice on testing, isolation, symptoms to be aware of, and their level of risk," the spokesperson said.

One Sydney mother told AAP strong comments from Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant, plus rising case numbers, led her to pull her 20-month-old out of daycare in Summer Hill on Thursday.

Her son loves the inner west centre, which had warned that waiving fees could mean standing down staff. It's also impossible for her to work with her son at home.

But Dr Chant on Wednesday said that working from home was not enough of a reason for parents keep kids in daycare.

The decision to pull him out caused a great deal of "anxiety and emotion", the mother said.

"We thought we were doing the right thing," she said.

"I was incredibly upset on Wednesday because it just feels like the government have made this much harder than it needs to be," she said.

"If they had made a blanket rule then we would have had no choice."

Cally Condliffe, director of Inner City Care in Ultimo, says there has not been enough transparency around the risks.

Her centre continued to have about 70 per cent attendance until last week.

Knowing more about outbreaks in childcare centres would help families and workers make informed decisions, she said.

The lack of information "just gives the illusion that childcare and schools are just a lot safer than what they might be", she said.

"It would be really nice if the government... could define who should be using childcare at the moment," she added.

On Sydney's north shore, Tom has decided to keep his five-year-old Charlotte in childcare for now.

The official advice is still confusing, he says, and parents at his centre are split down the middle.

"The request is not a rule," he said.

Tom is a fan of Dr Chant - in fact, he wants to get a T-shirt with her face on it - but he thinks her comment about working from home was "a rare misstep".

Charlotte will be going to kindergarten next year, and she needs childcare to prepare her for that. Case numbers in Lane Cove are low, so for now he's prepared to take the risk.

"My job as a parent is to protect her as best I can, but also acknowledge life comes with risk," Tom said.

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