SINGAPORE - The PAP Community Foundation (PCF) will review its operations, as another teacher at Fengshan PCF Sparkletots centre in Bedok North tested positive for the coronavirus.
This means that there are now 19 cases linked to Singapore's newest Covid-19 cluster - 15 staff and four family members.
Five children who had said they felt unwell have tested negative for the virus, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee told reporters on Thursday (March 26).
The Fengshan centre's remaining 10 staff and about 110 students are now in quarantine. Another 30 staff from other PCF centres have also been placed under quarantine, as they had attended a training course with the Fengshan PCF centre's principal.
The pre-school operator which runs 360 centres islandwide will "take a pause" to revisit with all staff its standard-operating procedures and guidelines.
This will be done "to provide the reassurance to parents across the board that they will continue to provide and strengthen protocols in place for pre-schools", Mr Lee said.
As of Thursday, 15 staff at the Fengshan centre were infected with Covid-19, including one teacher who tested positive on Thursday morning.
The Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) said on Wednesday evening that all 360 PCF centres will close for four days from Thursday after the cases were found to be linked to the pre-school.
Said Mr Lee: "Some may perceive that in this particular case, some teachers who were not well ought to have left the centre immediately, rather than carry on with their duties for a couple more hours.
"But I hope that parents, public and other colleagues, recognise the realities on the ground, and not in a two dimensional way. Because I'm sure the teachers concerned, the operators, managers, in hindsight have seen facts and they will take the necessary measures hereafter, do the necessary, in order to hold to account the causes for what happened."
He added: “I think we should not jump to any conclusions to say any one teacher or principal had been the entry point for this Covid-19. Let’s have a heart for the feelings of the teachers concerned.
“There is no indication at all as to whether they were complacent or broken the rules, and in some sense they were quite zealous in making sure that children were cared for. But perhaps (there were) some moments lost, a couple of minutes, hours.
"Nevertheless, this is not the time for us to pin and assign blame. The key is to make sure that we uplift and uphold the entire sector, in order to continue to give assurance to parents."
“Pre-schools are an essential service in Singapore,” he said. “Parents entrust the children to our pre-school sector, so they have peace of mind when they go to work.”
Around 400 pre-school operators run about 1,900 centres with 180,000 children across Singapore.
Giving an overall update of the impact Covid-19 has had on the pre-school sector, Mr Lee said so far three children of pre-school age have tested positive for the virus, including two cases announced by the Health Ministry on Wednesday.
The first was a pupil at a pre-school in Choa Chu Kang, and while the other two children had not been in school for some time, they had either travelled with family or was linked to a family member who went abroad for work, said Mr Lee.
In total, 320 pre-school children have been given leave of absence, as they live with a person who has been put on quarantine.
Another 4,500 children and 1,200 staff in pre-schools have been issued leave of absence after returning from overseas from March 14.
Another 438 pre-school children and 170 staff have been issued stay-at-home notices, based on their travel history to any country.
Mr Lee said that pre-school attendance remains high since the coronavirus outbreak began this year, but he acknowledged that some parents prefer to keep their children at home.
“(Some) think that the whole sector ought to perhaps be shut down for this reason. They have kept their children at home... or made alternative arrangements because of their concerns.
“We respect that, we understand that. And that is why ECDA has waived the one-day attendance requirement each month for them to be eligible for pre-school subsidies.”
He noted that many parents, including those at the front lines such as healthcare professionals and public transport workers, do not have alternative caregiving arrangements.
Parents are “rightfully concerned” about the latest cluster emerging in a pre-school, he said.
Teachers too are concerned, he said. “Some are concerned about the health and well-being of their colleagues who have been affected. Some are concerned about themselves, other colleagues at other centres, about the efficacy of the measures to keep them and their centre safe.”
Pre-schools have since January stepped up measures such as more frequent temperature-taking daily, restricting visitors and suspending excursions.
He said: “We, as a sector, need to maintain the measures that are needed at this time, and to uphold them to the highest standards.
“Operators all know that we owe it to the parents, so they have peace of mind. We also owe it to all the teachers, because they continue to come to work, knowing that they have a duty and a responsibility.”
He said that the Government has introduced tighter measures at the borders and in the community to prevent the spread of the virus.
“If despite these heightened measures... if there is a sign of growing community transmission, we will have to consider more drastic measures, which can include closures of some workplaces, as well as pre-schools, schools, and shift towards e-learning” he said.
“This has to be a considered decision, it should not be triggered, it should not be knee-jerk.”