While we will not know until next week whether New Zealand will stay in a Level 4 lockdown or whether we will progress to Level 3, yesterday the Government provided some guidance around what life and work will look like at Level 3.
Whilst the general direction is that where you can work from home you must do so, there are some workplaces which will be allowed to return to work at Level 3, albeit with significant health and safety practices in place. This includes the Education sector.
Government guidance has stated that under Alert Level 3 it will be safe for Early Learning / Education Centres and schools to open for children up to and including year 10, with appropriate public health measures in place. Students in years 11 -13 will continue to learn from home and the majority of tertiary education will also be through distance learning. Play centres and play groups will remain closed.
Importantly, physical attendance at schools up to Year 10 is voluntary and schools are provided as a safe place for children to learn if their parents need to return to work under Level 3 or the children are unable to take part in distance learning. Parents who are able to keep their children at home are encouraged to do so.
However early education centres and schools as workplaces provide a number of challenges to implementing public health measures, particularly where very young children are involved. Currently Government guidance includes:
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as gloves and masks are not necessary in a school environment.
- Children, young people and staff who are at a greater risk from COVID-19 are encouraged to stay at home.
- Any child, young person or staff member who is sick should remain at home.
- There should be far fewer students on school grounds and students will stay within smaller, controlled groups.
General public health guidance under Alert Level 3 requires that in controlled environments such as workplaces, 1 metre distancing is to be implemented. Again, this may provide a particular challenge where the relevant workplace is a school or early education centre.
The Government has also signaled that it will take at least a week for schools and early learning services to get ready to open after the country moves to Alert Level 3. This provides these institutions with some time to prepare and ensure that they have appropriate public health measures in place.
Further Government guidance will be released around how the transition to Level 3 will look for education providers. We also understand that on Friday 17 April, NZEI and other relevant education stakeholders met with Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to discuss the Level 3 guidance.
It is important to note that employers must still meet their health and safety obligations under the Health and Safety at Work Act during all COVID-19 Alert Levels. Employers in the education sector should begin preparation for Level 3 in accordance with Government and Ministry guidance and initiate discussions with their staff. We also expect that different schools and early education centres will need to implement health measures and strategies tailored to their specific circumstances, including the number of children who are expected to return under Alert Level 3.