Some parents were forced to take a day off work or leave their children with relatives as nurseries across the UAE shut on Sunday as part of efforts to contain the spread of coronavirus.
Residents were supportive of government measures to safeguard the health of toddlers, but said they worried about the impact the planned two-week closures may have on their employment.
UAE health and education authorities directed all nurseries and kindergartens to shut from Sunday as the country attempts to limit the spread of the disease. It is not known when they will reopen.
At a briefing held on Saturday, Hussain Al Hammadi, the Minister of Education said that nurseries in the UAE will be closed for two weeks effective tomorrow, March 1st, as a precautionary measure against coronavirus, according to state news agency Wam.
The measure left families with pre-schoolers scrambling to find alternative care arrangements. Federal government employees were granted flexible working hours on Sunday and residents said they hope the private sector will follow suit.
Asad Mustafa is worried his wife could quit a new job with a health care company due to the shutdown.
The Dubai-based couple left their two-year-old son Abdullah with an aunt in Sharjah last night. They are anxious that due to traffic and work schedules they will not see him daily.
“Mentally and emotionally it’s torture for us to have our son far away,” said Mr Mustafa who works in retail outlet in a mall.
“We can’t go every day to Sharjah because we finish work late. We have been panicking, my wife has been crying since we heard nurseries would shut. It is going to be very hard. It is already affecting my work to know that our kid will be searching for us the whole night.”
Parents have asked for flexible working hours for families who cannot arrange for childcare at short notice.
“If companies cannot give days off to parents, then they should at least allow mothers to work half-days,” Mr Mustafa said.
“Otherwise how will parents manage with children who are 2-3 years and younger. We really appeal to the ministry to think of parents who have no one at home to take care of children.”
Emirati mother Fatema Saif has made arrangements to leave her three-year-old daughter with her mother.
“I can manage because my parents live here but what about others?” said Ms Saif, a mother of two, who works in a bank.
“If this goes on I will have to keep asking my mother for help because as a working mother I can’t keep taking off.”
A mother of a three-year-old boy said she and her husband would take alternate days off if the shutdown continued.
“My son will not stay with a stranger and I can’t trust just any nanny,” said the mother of Asser, who asked to remain anonymous.
“My son’s nursery is like a second home for him. I’m very worried because I will need to use up all my leave.”
Education officials described an unprecedented situation that had left parents in a predicament.
“Working parents needed to know quickly so they could keep a standby ready,” said Salima Shroff Vastani, director of Super Kids Nursery in Mirdif that cares for 65 children from the age of 15 months to four years.
“The one question they have is when will the nursery reopen. Everyone understands this is being done to safeguard health and safety but they worry because no one knows the time period.”
Dr Nashwa Bahaa el Din, paediatric specialist at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi, backed the measure to shut nurseries.
“Most of the reported cases are in adults however children are susceptible to a lot of infections including the coronavirus,” she said.
“Children have less awareness about protecting themselves and in the nursery, kids get in close contact and it becomes hard to control the spread of infection. Closing nurseries is a vital action taken to limit the spread the infection.”
She reiterated guidelines to parents to avoid crowded public areas, wash hands frequently, cover their mouth while coughing and seek medical help if symptoms of flu develop.
Earlier the Ministry of Education directed that all buses used in school transportation to be sterilised twice daily. The ministry also asked schools to stop group activities and overseas trips.
Schools have said they would attempt to continue education without major disruptions. Emails informed parents that extracurricular activities including sports competitions and music festivals would stop from Sunday.