Latest news on the Novel Coronavirus

Further to the Member Alerts of 28 January 2020 and 27 January 2020, early childhood education and care services would have since been directed by government authorities to have children and adults not attend their centre/service:

  • if they have travelled from Hubei Province within the past 14 days, they must isolate themselves until 14 days have elapsed after leaving Hubei Province.
  • if they have left, or transited through, mainland China on or after 1 February 2020 they must isolate themselves until 14 days after leaving China.
  • if they have been in close contact with a confirmed case of novel coronavirus, they must isolate yourself for 14 days after last contact with the confirmed case.

In the following scenarios children and adults can attend school or an early learning centre/service:

  • Children and staff who have travelled from other provinces of mainland China (and have not been in Hubei province) who arrived prior to 1 February 2020.
  • Children and staff who have only been to Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan.

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What should I tell families?

Some of your families may express their concern about their child’s health and safety in your service.

We recommend that you take a proactive approach and send your families a notice to reassure them about the health status at your centre (ie. whether there have been any suspected cases or exclusions) and also let them know that you are following the advice of the Federal and State Governments.

You can also refer to the factsheets for families and for early learning services on the Federal Department of Education website.

Please note that this advice may change at any stage, so please check the websites of the Federal Department of Health and the NSW Department of Health regularly for renewed content.

We are aware that the wording used in relation to this advice may differ across State and Federal website, but the basic guidance message is the same.

Who should I talk to if excluding children?

If you are in the position of excluding children that have been in attendance at your early learning service and subsequently excluded as a result of falling into the above two categories, we suggest you contact the NSW Department of Health. We suggest you also contact the NSW Department of Education's Early Childhood Education & Care Directorate and/or notify via NQAITS.

You should also contact your insurer to talk about your policy and what is included in your cover, and we would appreciate it if you let our office know.

If you are forced to close your service, you should also contact the CCS helpdesk (ccshelpdesk@education.gov.au or phone: 1300 667 276) to advise them.

Should I be charging parents if their child is excluded or they chose to stay home?

This is a decision to be made by each centre. Services should also consider their Complying Written Agreements (CWAs) and contracts with parents. Should parents who have been directed to stay at home consequently refuse to pay their fees, services are also asked to check their CWAs ad contracts with parents, including the suitability of using the bonds. 

What are the CCS implications?

CCS is payable for allowable absences. If a child has exceeded the 42 days of allowable absences, then no CCS is payable and the family is liable for the full fee.

What about additional absences of children?

If a family has reached their 42 allowable absences in this financial year, additional absences can be applied for.

In instances where the child(ren) is ill, a medical certificate will be provided. Once the centre has a copy of this medical certificate, they can adjust software settings to have additional allowable absences (ie have CCS applied for those days).

In instances where the child(ren) is not ill, families should visit their local GP and get a certificate stating that the child has been excluded in accordance with the Federal and NSW Departments of Health guidelines. The centre should take a copy of this certificate, and can then adjust software settings to have additional allowable absences (ie. have CCS applied for those days)

What if a child is excluded and hasn’t actually started their first formal day of care?

The CCS does not apply until the child physically start attending the centre. It is up to the service provider whether they will charge the family full fees during this time.

We appreciate the awkwardness of this situation - whilst legislation has been passed which will eventually allow some absences prior to commencement to have CCS applied, these changes have not yet come into effect.

This also applies for their final day of attendance (eg. if they attended the centre prior to school starting) and is covered under ‘cessation of care’ – ie. CCS is only paid until the final day of attendance.

Does this apply for Out-of-School-Hours-Care (OSHC) services?

All of these issues need to be considered in the OSHC environment – and we encourage centres to speak with their local schools regarding exclusions.

Pay & Leave: How do I go about paying staff in these instances?

The health and safety of staff and those they come into contact with must be every employer’s top priority. This should dictate the approach any employer takes to responding to notification from employees that they may have come into contact with coronavirus.

If an employee informs you that they may have contracted the coronavirus, or have been exposed to someone who has the coronavirus, they may use the following accrued entitlements: ​

  • Personal/Carer’s (sick) Leave: This leave is available for use where an employee is not fit for work. Employers can ask for a medical certificate certifying an employee’s absence from work due to illness or injury if required by the employer.
  • Employees will be unfit for work in circumstances where they should be isolated from others in accordance with the Australian Government advice outlined above.
  • Annual Leave/Long Service Leave: This can be used by employees who do not have enough personal/carer’s leave, where they have accrued the relevant entitlement. Employees requesting to take this form of leave should be permitted to do so, unless refusing to grant the leave is reasonable in the circumstances.

Directing employees not to attend work

If you have a reasonable suspicion an employee may be exhibiting signs of coronavirus, or that they have recently travelled to the Chinese city of Wuhan or the Hubei Province in the last 14 days, then you should follow the governments' health directives and direct the employee(s) to leave work or not attend the workplace and attend a medical professional for an assessment.

However, in this event, the employer should pay for the employee to see the doctor as well as for their time away from the workplace if the employee does not agree to take paid leave. The employer will be responsible for paying the employee until such time as medical confirmation is obtained that the employee is unfit for work. Once an employee is certified as unfit, then the employee can be required to take a form of leave (whether paid or unpaid).

Should the employee be directed to be at home for the duration of the incubation period (ie up to 14 days), employers can also direct the employees to work from home and be as productive as possible.

Returning to work

If an employee does report to you that they have had, or believe they may have been exposed to the coronavirus, we strongly recommend that, before permitting the employee to return to work, you obtain a medical certificate from that employee's General Practitioner certifying that they do not have the coronavirus and they are fit to return to work.

Use of masks on adults and children

At the time of writing this article, there remains no certainty that masks (including the N95 type of masks) can prevent the wearer from being infected with the Novel Coronavirus. It should also be taken into consideration that N95 and some other types of masks can also further restrict the flow of filtered air, thereby increasing the wearer to have even more difficulty breathing. 

Hence, the best course of action is to direct such adults and/or children to return home and undertake medical assessment.

Where can I get more information?

Please refer to the fact sheets for families and for early learning services on the Federal Department of Education website.

You can also refer to the NSW Department of Health website for the latest updates and guidance on the coronavirus.

PUBLISHED: 4 FEBRUARY 2020

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