After the government yesterday announced that nurseries and preschools can reopen from next week, there has been concern and confusion as to how this can be done safely, especially with such young children expected to conform to sanitary guidelines.

The mayors of some of Poland’s biggest cities have said that they will not be able to guarantee safe reopenings so soon. The country’s largest teachers’ union and many preschool directors have also appealed for greater clarity about new rules.

In response, the government today reiterated that the reopening of institutions is not compulsory, with final decisions to be made individually by the local authorities concerned. But it has also promised to provide clearer guidelines on the practicalities of implementation.

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After the government announced that nurseries and preschools could reopen from 6 May, it also issued a set of instructions for implementing the strict new “sanitary regime”. Among the requirements are:

  • Avoiding large clusters of children in a single room
  • Reminding children to avoid touching their faces
  • Parents having to inform the institution about their child’s health and directors having to exclude any child if there is a “reasonable suspicion” they are ill
  • Institutions being allowed to limit the number of children attending, giving priority to those with parents working in the healthcare system, uniformed services, commerce or manufacturing
  • Directors providing sanitary and protective equipment, including masks and disinfectants, as well as creating “isolation spaces” for suspected cases of infection
  • The removal of all items that cannot be easily disinfected, such as plush toys
  • Ventilation of rooms at least once per hour and strict and extensive rules regarding implementing and monitoring cleaning
  • Childcare schedules organised through electronic or telephone contact with parents
  • Training staff in how to deal with suspected infections

In response, Poland’s largest teachers’ union, the ZNP, said that the guidelines raised a host of further questions and concerns. It remains unclear, for example, which children should be admitted and who is required to wear protective equipment, said Mirosława Chodubska, the head of the ZNP’s Lower Silesian branch.

On its website, the ZNP published a list of questions directed at the prime minister, including how the mass infection seen in care homes could be avoided, what protective equipment would be provided, and how the requirement to wear a mask could be enforced.

It also queried how it would be possible to maintain the sanitary rules needed in large concentrations of people, particularly when children eat in a communal space, and whether staff would be afforded quick access to testing.

The head of the union, Sławomir Broniarz, tweeted his own criticism, describing the guidelines as a “joke” and condemning the government for shifting all responsibility to directors, teachers and other employees.

“The most amusing thing is that I have to instruct my three-year-old not to touch his face,” wrote journalist Karolina Opolska. “I’m also wondering how [preschools and nurseries] are supposed to prepare themselves to meet the guidelines in four working days.”

A number of mayors of large cities also issued statements declaring that they would not be reopening nurseries and preschools next week. It would be “madness” to do so, said Jacek Jaśkowiak, mayor of Poznań, quoted by Polsat News. Similar statements were issued by the leaders of Łódź and Wrocław.

Warsaw’s mayor Rafał Trzaskowski – like Jaśkowiak a member of the opposition Civic Platform – called for greater clarity from the government. “We are waiting for very specific instructions and answers to our questions, because at the moment we have a sense of a certain chaos,” he complained.

Rząd ogłosił dziś otwarcie przedszkoli i żłobków 6 maja. W szczycie epidemii, bez twardej rekomendacji ministra zdrowia….

Opublikowany przez Rafała Trzaskowskiego Środa, 29 kwietnia 2020

“There is no physical possibility to carry out such a serious undertaking in such a short time,” said Trzaskowski. “I will not endanger the lives and health of Warsaw’s children and preschool and nursery staff without a clear recommendation from the health minister.”

He added that it was unfair of the government to shift the responsibility to local authorities, when it was much better equipped to assess safety. He hinted that yesterday’s announcement on relaxing restrictions was motivated by the desire to show that things were getting back to normal and that therefore next week’s elections are safe.

“We really want to work together with the government in the battle against the epidemic, but we must treat each other seriously. Above all, though, the government must begin to think less about short-term political gain, and more about citizens’ health and lives,” said Warsaw’s mayor.

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In response, Michał Dworczyk, head of the prime minister’s chancellery, said that if Trzaskowski had any doubts, he could ask the Chief Sanitary Inspectorate for clarification. The guidelines have been “precisely described in various documents”, noted Dworczyk.

“In each local authority the situation is different, which is why in accordance with their expectations, this stage of opening the economy and starting up social life is being done in agreement with local government officials,” he said, quoted by Interia.

With criticism growing today, the health minister, Łukasz Szumowski, held a press conference to provide further clarity. No more than 12 children would be allowed in a room barring exceptional circumstances, and teachers and children would not have to wear masks, he said, while also promising that further guidelines would soon be published.

Szumowski asked parents to only send their children if they had to, as numbers would be limited. Marlena Maląg, the minister of family, labour and social policy, also confirmed that care allowances would be extended until 24 May.

Education minister Dariusz Piontkowski said that in-depth answers to frequently asked questions were available on the government website, and complained that some city mayors had been too hasty to criticise the government’s plans.

“Without asking parents, they have announced they will not be opening the institutions,” said Piontkowski. “The mayors of big cities say ‘It can’t be done’ just because the government made the decision.”

Most majors of large cities in Poland are associated with opposition parties.

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Main image credit: Wikimedia/ (under CC-BY-SA 4.0)

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