All pre-school staff to take Covid-19 swab test before centres reopen

Staff of My First Skool in Buangkok Crescent conducting temperature and visual checks on children on Jan 28, 2020. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - All pre-school staff will undergo a one-time swab test for Covid-19 starting from Friday (May 15) before centres reopen.

The test, which is a precautionary measure, would cover principals, teachers and educarers, and those who look after infants and toddlers.

It also includes non-programme staff like cleaners and cooks, as well as relief and new staff starting work in June.

Chief licensing officer Jamie Ang of the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) had announced the need for swab tests in a circular to operators on Wednesday (May 13).

The Health Promotion Board (HPB) will conduct the tests for staff between Friday and May 26 at four swabbing centres located in polytechnics, in areas segregated from the rest of the campus.

In the circular seen by The Straits Times, Ms Ang said that to allow faster testing, a pooled approach will be used, where swab samples from up to five individuals will be tested in one batch, instead of individually.

Non-anchor operator pre-schools will need to register their staff in groups of five for the exercise, while the headquarters of anchor operators are coordinating directly with the HPB and ECDA to schedule appointments.

Most staff will be required to do only one swab test, but a small number may have to return for a second individual test if the first batch test is positive, she said.

Children will not be tested as evidence indicates that they are typically infected by adults, and not by their peers, Ms Ang added.

The Government will bear the cost of the one-time swab test exercise, given the sizeable number of staff involved.

Teaching and programme staff alone account for about 25,000 in the pre-school sector.

The ECDA said that as Singapore looks to gradually resume services safely, testing and monitoring will be stepped up, especially in priority groups such as seniors and children.

Hence, testing has been prioritised for the pre-school sector, as staff have close and constant contact with young children in an enclosed setting.

Employees are only allowed to make their way to the four swabbing centres via an authorised shuttle bus, which they can take from nearby MRT stations in Woodlands, Tampines West, Dover and Khatib.

ECDA said: "We recognise that these tests bring inconvenience to pre-schools and staff, but we seek your understanding that this will help to better safeguard the well-being of children and staff in pre-schools as we look at the opening up of general services."

To reassure staff and families on a longer-term basis, individuals at a higher risk of infection, such as children and staff returning after serving stay-home notices, may have to undergo further testing before returning to pre-schools.

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A number of pre-schools had to be closed earlier after reporting Covid-19 infections. The disease had, as of May 7, infected 57 children - those aged 16 and younger - in Singapore.

The tests are the latest precautionary measures implemented since January to keep the pre-school community safe.

Earlier measures include the restriction of visitors, suspension of large group and communal activities, tighter and more frequent health checks, and requiring travel declarations from all staff, children and visitors.

Clarification note: ECDA had previously announced that the suspension of general services at pre-schools would be extended to June 1, and that in line with MOE's updated calendar, kindergartens will reopen for Term 3 from June 2. The Ministry of Social and Family Development has clarified that there has been no announcement on when pre-schools will reopen.

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