SINGAPORE - From June 2, pre-schools will start to resume general services for children in stages, Minister for Social and Family Development Desmond Lee said on Tuesday (May 19).
Kindergarten 1 and Kindergarten 2 children - five- and six-year-olds - will be the first to return from June 2, while Nursery 1 and Nursery 2 children may go back a week later, from June 8.
From June 10, the youngest group of children in infant care and playgroups may return.
In tandem with circuit breaker measures, pre-schools have been closed since April 8 to most children except for a small group who need care support.
When they reopen, centres will have to adhere to safe management measures such as compulsory mask or shield wearing for all staff and children aged two years and older, having smaller groups of children during activities, as well as staggering drop-off and pick-up timings of children.
Speaking at a press conference by the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19 in Singapore, Mr Lee said that as the circuit breaker comes to an end, workplaces will reopen and parents will need childcare support.
Student care centres for older students will fully reopen on June 2, with precautions in place, he added.
Early intervention centres - which cater to children with special needs - will also reopen in phases, starting with children with higher needs, or those who only attend such centres.
To minimise the risk of transmission, supplementary programmes such as enrichment and early intervention services, where providers move across different centres, remain suspended, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) said on Tuesday.
The agency is closely monitoring the situation and will advise when it is safe to resume these activities.
Mr Lee said that pre-schools are reopening in phases so that children, parents and staff will have some time to adapt to stepped-up measures, and to ease the transition on young children.
"While we cannot eliminate the risk of transmission, we can minimise the risks. Therefore rules and practices in pre-school and early intervention centres will have to change," he said.
For instance, staff and children who are aged two and older will need to wear a mask or face shield in school, and this is already in place for those who are currently at the centres.
Temasek Foundation is providing face shields to all 180,000 children in pre-schools and early intervention centres, as well as 30,000 staff.
Mr Lee said that ECDA will devote the first two weeks of reopening to reinforcing public health awareness and ensuring that staff, children and their parents develop "Covid-safe" habits. This will be prioritised over resuming "normal" classes during this period.
He added that pre-schools and early intervention centres will be guided by a set of "Covid-safe ABCs" in their reopening. These guidelines refer to ensuring safe access to the centres, or restricting entry of individuals who may pose a higher risk of transmission.
All pre-school and early intervention staff are undergoing a swab test for Covid-19, and the exercise is scheduled to be completed by the end of May. Mr Lee said that some 8,500 staff have been swabbed, and so far there have been no positive cases.
"But given that we are going to swab some 30,000 staff, we do expect that there might be some positive cases," he added.
The pre-school community will also need to adopt safe hygiene and management behaviour, including frequent handwashing and cleaning of premises and equipment, as well as having smaller group activities within each class.
The mixing between groups is not allowed. Pre-schools should also refrain from cross-sharing of materials as far as possible and designate key equipment such as seats and cots.
Interaction between staff and children from different classes will also need to be minimised. Pre-schools should stagger the use of common areas and facilities by classes, as well as suspend cross-deployment of staff across centres.