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Lockdown 2021: 'It feels like nurseries are an afterthought'

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When Prime Minister Boris Johnson outlined plans for the third national lockdown, there was one education system missing from his guidance.

While schools and colleges in England were told to close, no mention was made of early years settings like nurseries.

They'll remain open in England, Wales and Northern Ireland but are closed in Scotland until February at least.

Vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi says there's "very little risk" and staying open is "the right thing to do".

'An afterthought'

Talia Simpson is 23 and works at a nursery in a village in Somerset.

While she's happy to still be working, she says early years practitioners have been "let down" by the government.

"With all the announcements, it feels like early years are an afterthought," she tells Radio 1 Newsbeat.

"Back in March we were told that schools and colleges were to shut and had no clarification about where that left us."

The government insists that schools haven't closed because they are unsafe but because it is part of "additional measures" to contain the spread of coronavirus.

image copyrightTalia Simpson
image captionTalia wants more protection for nursery workers - such as better PPE or early vaccines

Evidence shows that nursery-age children are less likely to catch coronavirus and are not believed to be playing a major role in spreading the infection, according to the government.

"Early years settings remain low risk environments for children and staff and there is no evidence that the new variant of coronavirus disproportionately affects young children," says a spokesperson for the Department for Education.

"Keeping nurseries and child-minders open will support parents and deliver the crucial care and education for our youngest children."

One worker told the BBC that the entire staff of her nursery in Norfolk had Covid over Christmas, and one of her colleagues ended up on a ventilator to help her breathe.

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When Nicola Sturgeon announced Scotland's first 2021 lockdown on 4 January, nurseries were part of the education closures.

The union Unison has called on the government to close all nurseries in England as Covid infections continue to rise.

A petition calling on the government to close nurseries in England has had nearly 40,000 signatures online.

'Little regard for health and safety'

"Keeping nurseries and other pre-schools open puts staff and communities at risk," says Unison's head of education, Jon Richards.

"Social distancing is impossible with young children and the government has yet to publish the scientific evidence to justify ​nurseries being treated differently to schools."

He says the government's decision to keep nurseries open in the new lockdown has been "taken with little regard to the health and safety of ​employees."

Unison is calling for school and nursery staff to be a "priority" for vaccination and mass testing.

'We want some recognition'

Talia wants the same.

She says nursery staff are working on the frontline by looking after children from so many different families and keeping a vital service open, but this is not being reflected in the support her and her colleagues are being given.

"We basically want some recognition, it's not a case that we want to be put on furlough - of course we don't [want that]," she says.

"We would just like to be told, 'We're going to put you up the list for the vaccine or we're going to provide you with some PPE'.

"When we first got given PPE from the local council, for twenty members of staff we were given one tub of hand sanitiser and three visors to see us through and that's all we received."

Furlough is also available for nursery workers if their employer isn't making enough money to keep them on.

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  • Covid-19: 'Very little' virus risk at nurseries, says vaccine minister