A leading Dubai nursery group is gearing up to resume operations for the first time in seven months after completing rigorous Covid-19 safety preparations.
More than 330 staff and hundreds more children are awaiting final government approval before they can walk through the doors of 23 British Orchard Nurseries in the emirate once more.
Places of learning across the country shut down in March as part of efforts to curb the spread of Covid-19.
Schools and universities have gradually reopened in recent weeks, with many adopting blended learning models catering for learners both in class and those studying remotely.
The Ministry of Education and the National Emergency, Crisis and Disaster Management Authority announced nurseries could reopen in August, but not all have been able to meet strict new criteria.
The costs involved under the new guidelines are considerable, but British Orchard Nursery chief executive and founder Dr Vandana Gandhi said staff are just happy to go back to work.
“No one has been spared by the pandemic so the impact has been hard on us, like many others,” she said.
“The government training for thousands of staff across the country to enable them to get back to work has been exceptional.
“There has been a financial impact and on the well-being of the young.
“We are still not out of this pandemic, but all our plans have been approved so we are hopeful of reopening all our nurseries once the final inspections have been completed over the next few days.”
Protective bubbles for up to 10 children and three staff will help keep those inside safe, while emergency protocols have been established in case anyone show symptoms of Covid-19.
It is part of a series of measures nurseries must follow if they plan to reopen for business.
“It has been a lot for the staff to deal with, the training has been quite intensive and extensive changes have been made to all hygiene, staff and child attendance procedures,” said Emma Addy, a business support manager at the British Orchard Nursery.
“Our staff love being around children, so they are eager to get back to work.
“To not hear the chatter, noise and see the smiles on the children’s faces has been really hard for everyone.”
Nurseries taking strong steps to keep children safe
About 200 children would usually attend the nursery in Dubai Silicon Oasis.
That has been slashed to less than 100 under capacity restrictions limiting the intake to just 50 per cent.
Getting young children back into nurseries at a young age is seen as crucial to their development, and parents have been reassured all has been done to ensure they return to a safe environment.
Nurseries must follow a strict government-approved reopening plan that must be signed off after a final inspection before children are allowed back inside.
Regulations include compulsory temperature checks on arrival, different entry and exit points for different age groups and staggered start times.
Toys and play equipment have been kept to a minimum to reduce contamination risk and some rooms will not be used for play.
A sparse room with just a bed and chair inside one former play area now serves as an isolation room for children suspected of carrying the virus.
“If a child shows symptoms during the day, the nurse must remain with them, along with a member of staff from their bubble,” said Ms Addy, 41.
“It is why we must have three staff members inside each bubble.
“After the child has left, the room is sanitised and the staff member must leave the nursery to sanitise.”
If the child tests positive for the virus, all other children and staff within the bubble must also be removed from the nursery and tested for covid.
If there is more than one positive case, the nursery will be closed temporarily as a precaution.
Inside the nursery clinic, a Dubai Health Authority nurse and health and safety officer is responsible for daily health screenings of all staff and children.
Parents are no longer allowed to tour the nursery with all transactions paperless.
A sanitising mist machine cleans the building and its contents daily, and cleaners must use disposable tissues rather than cloths to wipe down toys and surfaces.
All staff members will be tested for Covid-19 before the nursery opening and then regularly tested every fortnight.
The company has two centres in the UK, in Oxford and Bicester, where 30 staff remained at work throughout the pandemic, with no closures.
Managers there exchanged successful lessons to ensure nurseries can now stay open in the UAE.
“Using bubbles in the nursery is a proven method of protecting children and letting them get back to seeing their friends and teachers again,” said Dr Gandhi.
“We know it is an important time for a child’s development, so parents should be reassured we are doing all we can to ensure that continues.
“Children need stimulation in a nursery environment with their peers - getting them back will only improve their development.”