Childcare centres empty as industry faces 'collapse'

Childcare centres across the country, in particular in NSW and Victoria, are facing empty rooms and emptying bank accounts as parents pull their children out in droves following the NSW and VIC State Governments' advice to keep schoolchildren home if possible.

One insider said that the sector was facing "quite possibly wholesale collapse" with parents pulling children out - rather than 'freezing' their place.

Figures have been put at about 30 per cent absent but a senior early education source told News Corp Australia it was more like 50 to 90 per cent of children not attending since Monday with many parents pulling their children out, no longer concerned about the need to 'preserve their spot'.

"Since the two Premiers' comments on Monday, there are now mass job losses just in the first 48 hours, with much more to come," he said.

"The problem is the Federal Government has assured early childhood education and care services that they will receive the Commonwealth subsidy if they are forced to temporarily close by state governments.

"Yet, the state governments have not broadly instructed services to close but instead are telling parents to keep their children at home where possible. Services are now facing collapse because they are unable to pay for employees and landlords without income.

"Sadly, this now also means an extremely fast reduction of places available for frontline workers, including doctors, nurses, ambulance officers, police officers, fire fighters, who may need us to care for their children."

"There is now the ironic conclusion that to survive, pay the landlord and hold on to as many employees as possible in order to provide places for children, the only currently available option left is for centres to be shut down in order to be on life support by the Commonwealth."

News Corp Australia is aware of one small service that had no children turn up earlier this week and others that are encouraging parents to preserve their spots, rather than pull their children out.

It comes as an expert says the focus on closing schools could actually have the opposite effect in terms of containing the virus.

Federal Education Minister Dan Tehan has warned that schools may need to extend the Easter holidays break.

Closing schools would not helping contain the coronavirus because students were not required to self-isolate when they were sent home, public health expert Professor Paul Van Buynder said.

"What we are seeing is hordes of adolescents in Westfield malls catching up with each other, having a freebie day from school," he said.

This would allow any infected adolescents to spread the virus more widely through the community rather than contain it in a school where only younger people were likely to get infected, he said.

"I'm at a loss trying to explain what it is we are trying to do," he said.

Professor Van Buynder, a public health physician and former head of the Immunisation Coalition, said children were less likely to get coronavirus and were not super spreaders of the disease.

"In China among the first 50,000 people who got coronavirus only three per cent were children," he said.

One theory about why children were not infected or had only mild cases of coronavirus was that they had recently had other types of coronavirus which manifests as a mild common cold, he said.

For these reasons he said he believed the focus on closing schools during the coronavirus epidemic was not useful.

"There has been an unhealthy focus on schools when we should be focusing our efforts on aged care facilities," he said.

Most schools are now focusing on ensuring their secondary school learning can still be implemented online but many primary schools are struggling as they do not have the same resources. Students are likely to be supplied with additional 'homework packs' heading into the Easter holidays.

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