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Learning blocks used in preschools and daycares.

Kalain Hosein

In the last week, regulations have been changing quite rapidly, even by COVID-19 standards. Last Friday, the Prime Minister announced a slew of changes to the COVID-19 measures, lifting restrictions across the board. On March 7th, 2022, the public service will return to full service, and all public servants will be expected to return to work as normal.

The measure met some criticism by parents since schools and daycares for the youngest of the population remained closed, leaving them scrambling to find childcare. Then, last Saturday, the Minister of Health, Terrance Deyalsingh, said that it was still too risky to open daycares at their media conference. “We are still concerned about young children and toddlers who are unvaccinated. The risk is still too high at this point in time to both the children and their parents. I empathise with the people who have been severely affected by this. None of these sectors asked for this.”

But no more than 24 hours later, the Health Ministry sent a late-night media release at 11:27 PM, indicating that daycares can reopen from March 7th, 2022. For officials that have touted following the science for much of the pandemic, this flip-flop was mindboggling for some, but it was a widely welcomed decision.

At Wednesday’s Ministry of Health media conference, Health Minister Terrance Deyalsingh explained, “The reason that we revisited the proposal on daycares was we got a lot of representation, especially from public servants who had to come out on Monday.”

He also said, “we look at these measures all the time […] weighing the risk and benefit of getting people back out to work, being productive. That was the reason why we revisited the idea between Saturday and Sunday to accommodate mainly public servants and teachers to some extent and all those coming back out to work. It is a risk.”

The Minister also cautioned, “We can’t cocoon […] the population much longer. In taking this risk, the personal responsibility of this is going to become crucial.” Deyalsingh explained that families utilizing childcare options should have any family members above 12 fully vaccinated to give some levels of protection to their unvaccinated children. In addition, if you notice your child displaying flu-like symptoms, do not bring the child to daycare and keep the child at home. Deyalsingh also added that daycares too have an added responsibility by not accepting children with any kind of flu-like symptoms or fevers.

Justifying the decision-making process, the Health Minister said, “The decision-making has changed drastically in the past few months as opposed to the first 18, 19, 20 months of the pandemic.” These changes stem from having more than 50 percent of the population fully vaccinated and having a lower hospitalization rate.

“Decision-making has to change as the pandemic evolves. We always said once the mass vaccination process started in May and June, the responsibility now has been shifted from the government –  government actions like lockdowns, closing to personal responsibility to either get vaccinated or follow the public health regulations,” Deyalsingh said.

The Health Minister cautioned, “that’s why we can take these brave decisions because we have to get everyone back out to work but as safely as possible but knowing we are taking some risk. It is the only way to manage this phase of the pandemic. If we don’t do that and rely on lockdowns, we are going to have a socioeconomic fallout where people are not working, not generating income with taxis not working, and you don’t want that to be prolonged.”