What childcare options are there for parents who develop coronavirus symptoms?

Following reports that Dominic Cummings travelled from London to Durham while sick with the coronavirus, Downing Street has come to the defence of the prime minister’s chief aide, stating that the trip was “essential” so that Cummings could ensure his child could be looked after.

It was reported that Mr Cummings and his wife had travelled 260 miles to his parents‘ home so that they could help take care of their young son.

A No 10 spokesperson said that “it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for”, due to “his wife being infected with suspected coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell”.

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They added that Mr Cummings’ sisters and nieces “had volunteered to help so he went out to a house near to but separate from his extended family in case their help was needed”.

The government stressed that Mr Cummings’ actions “were in line with coronavirus guidelines”. However, some have questioned whether the long journey was warranted amid lockdown for Mr Cummings to ensure he had childcare support.

What are the NHS guidelines on self-isolation?

The NHS states that if you or someone you live with shows symptoms for Covid-19, you should “not leave your home for any reason” nor have any visitors to your home, including friends or relatives.

If you have symptoms of coronavirus, you are advised to self-isolate at home for seven days, while members of your household should self-isolate for 14 days from the day your symptoms first started.

However, if a parent or guardian shows coronavirus symptoms and is unable to adequately take care of the children in their household, self-isolating for seven to 14 days may not seem like a feasible course of action.

At the government’s daily press conference on 24 March, England’s deputy chief medical officer Dr Jenny Harries spoke of the “exceptional circumstance” of an unwell adult unable to care for a young child.

“A small child clearly is a vulnerable individual, so in this case, although we are encouraging everybody to stay in their own households – that’s the unit with the same risk of exposure – clearly if you have adults who are unable to look after a small child, that is an exceptional circumstance,” Dr Harries said.

Can children stay with grandparents if their parents show coronavirus symptoms?

In a speech delivered by the prime minister on 18 March, Boris Johnson warned of the risks of children coming into contact with older relatives.

“I also need to remind parents that, as we have already advised, children should not be left with older grandparents, or older relatives, who may be particularly vulnerable or fall into some vulnerable groups and I know that will be difficult too,” Mr Johnson said.

The NHS states that people who are aged 70 or older are deemed “at moderate risk from coronavirus”.

The health services says it is “very important” for anyone at moderate risk to follow social distancing measures, which includes staying at home “as much as possible”.

On the other hand, while children can contract Covid-19, “very few children develop severe symptoms, even if they have an underlying health condition”, Great Ormond Street Hospital explains.

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Can you ask another adult to help provide support?

If you felt it were necessary for another adult to help with childcare in your home while you are unwell, then they would need to remain in the household for two weeks in accordance with self-isolation guidelines.

In updated guidance published on the government’s website on 22 May, it states that in the case of children whose parents or guardians live apart, they are permitted to move between households.

“Where parents or someone with parental responsibility do not live in the same household, children under 18 can be moved between their parents’ home to continue existing arrangements for access and contact,” it says.

However, this guidance does not reference cases where one of the parental figures has coronavirus symptoms.

GP Nicola Harker warns that moving children between households when a parent is ill “may mean spreading the virus further”.

“Ideally, you need to find a person you can ask to come to you and isolate with you for two weeks. This would pose the least risk to the relative and would contain the virus within the same household,” Dr Harker says.

Where else can you seek help?

During the daily press conference on 24 March, Dr Harries outlined how parents may be able to access childcare support if they are unable to look after their children.

“If the individuals do not have access to care support, formal care support or to family, they will be able to work through their local authority hubs,” the deputy chief medical officer for England said.

As part of the measures recently announced to ease lockdown restrictions in England, the government said that from Wednesday 13 May, “paid childcare can be provided to the children of one household”.

However, the government added that paid childcare, including nannies and childminders, can only be carried out subject to being able to meet certain public health principles.

The government’s document states that your employer has “a duty to assess and manage risks to your safety in the workplace”.

This implies that in the case of a parent showing coronavirus symptoms, it would be their duty as the employer to determine the risk of allowing a worker to enter their home to help look after their children.

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