On Tuesday morning, an employee at Beisfjord fus kindergarten in Narvik municipality in Nordland tested positive for corona. Eight out of a total of nine employees are now in the leisure quarantine. Nevertheless, the kindergarten is open.
– Everyone walks around and is terrified of infecting the kids in the kindergarten because we do not know who is the reason why our one colleague tested positive, says general manager Wenche Bolle to TV 2.
– We are in the first line for society to be allowed to stay open, but how long are we going to stand here without being taken care of?
She is one of the eight employees who are considered close contact and must be included in the government’s “leisure quarantine” for employees in Norwegian schools and kindergartens.
This means that despite the fact that Bolle is considered too contagious to be able to meet friends or participate in leisure activities, she and her colleagues are healthy enough to show up at work and take care of other people’s children.
– To run a kindergarten so that all other families can live as normal a life as possible while we are not allowed to do the same, I think is difficult, says Bolle, and adds:
– We go to great lengths to keep the kindergartens open, but it is at our own expense.
It was the newspaper Forwards who first mentioned the case.
Since the government announced the plans for the “leisure quarantine” during the Christmas holidays, several thousand school and kindergarten employees have reacted with disgust and the unions have protested loudly.
At the time of writing, the Facebook group has “No to new quarantine rules in kindergarten and school!” over 25,300 members.
– We understand that we must follow the measures set by the government, but it is not fair to the people who are in it, says Bolle
But according to Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre and FHI, the infection will continue to increase in Norway in January. This will mean that even more school and kindergarten employees will probably find themselves in the same situation as Bolle and his colleagues are in now.
– I think the government should look at other solutions. If they had said that the kindergartens should be operated with reduced opening hours at the yellow level, the sickness absence of employees could have been reduced, says the kindergarten leader.
She believes that the current regulations are double-edged and do not take employees into account.
– We are not allowed to follow up our own families and leisure activities after work, but they must still follow up other people’s children at work on a daily basis. It becomes very double-edged.
The kindergarten’s frustration is shared by the Education Association, which says the scheme with leisure quarantine is both unfair and unreasonable.
– We want the requirement for leisure quarantine to be dropped, says leader Steffen Handal in an e-mail to TV 2.
– We have clearly stated that the test capacity, vaccines and quarantine must be seen in context. Unfortunately, this has not happened, and then we think it is completely unreasonable to introduce exceptions from the job quarantine, but orders on the leisure quarantine, he continues.
Handal encourages the government to prioritize teacher and daycare staff in the vaccine queue for dose three, and give everyone the opportunity to get tested regularly rather than sitting in the leisure quarantine.
– Keeping distance is not possible in practice and many teachers have close contact with many students. When there is a lot of infection among them, there is also a greater risk of employees being infected, he says.
Brought home the kids
Because it is difficult to keep your distance in a kindergarten with a total of 40 children, such as at Beisfjord fus kindergarten in Narvik. Several parents have now chosen to bring their children home from kindergarten for fear of infection after the positive corona test on Tuesday.
– Children are very contact-seeking. They are used to being with us for up to ten hours every day, and therefore it becomes completely unnatural for us to keep our distance, says Bolle.
– We sit on the floor with the children and around the table, they need help to lubricate the food, change diapers and go to the toilet, and we can not do that with a distance of two meters. Our arms are not long enough, she says.
She does not understand the government’s thoughts behind the leisure quarantine scheme.
– If we are quarantined, it should mean that we are quarantined. Then you should not be at work because it is a matter of reducing the infection in society, she says.
At the earliest on Tuesday next week, Bolle and his colleagues can be released from the leisure quarantine if they test negative on the corona tests, but if some test positive, others may risk being quarantined even longer.
– We risk going in the leisure quarantine for many weeks instead of having the quarantine for 3-7 days, Bolle explains.
– I am terrified of the outcome in that we continue as we do now. The last thing I want is to close a department or the whole kindergarten, she says.
Stands behind the scheme
But the government stands its ground. When asked by TV 2, Minister of Education Tonje Brenna (Labor Party) answers that even though she understands the frustration among teachers and kindergarten staff, the current scheme is the most effective tool for ensuring that Norwegian schools and kindergartens can continue to be open.
– We justify it with the consideration of keeping schools and kindergartens as open as possible, while we want to avoid possible extensive closure. Fortunately, few children become seriously ill with corona, and adults are well protected against serious illness with two vaccine doses, she writes in an e-mail to TV 2.
The decision on leisure quarantine for certain occupational groups has been reached in consultation with the Norwegian Directorate of Health, NIPH and the Norwegian Directorate of Education. Employees in Norwegian schools and kindergartens will also be given priority in the vaccine queue for a third dose, which will give them exemption from the quarantine provisions.
– I understand that this is demanding for many, and that it can seem strange that you can go to work and meet unvaccinated children, while you can not meet people in your spare time. The purpose is that we limit the number of close contacts outside the workplace as much as possible, while keeping schools and kindergartens open, the Minister of Education and Research explains.
But she adds that the only difference in the quarantine rules for school and kindergarten employees is that they can go to work from day one, while other occupational groups can only test themselves back to work from day three.
– Everyone who is in quarantine also has quarantine in their free time. The difference is how quickly you can return to work when you are quarantined. The goal is to limit the number of close contacts beyond those you have in the workplace, she concludes.
The leisure quarantine scheme is among the corona measures the government will consider again when considering whether to ease the restrictions in Norway next week.