Frequently asked questions about COVID-19 for early learning services
Frequently asked questions
Vaccination Mandate update
Vaccine mandates were removed for the education sector at 11:59pm on 4 April. Requirements around My Vaccine Pass and scanning using COVID-19 QR codes were also be removed.
These are tools that were developed to fight COVID-19 and protect an unvaccinated population. New Zealand is now highly vaccinated and moving through the peak of the Omicron outbreak.
The Government’s focus now is to make life simpler and closer to normal but retain the things that we know help to reduce the spread of COVID-19. These are masks, and when an outbreak is particularly severe, capacity limits indoors.
Given your workforce is already highly vaccinated, your service will need to consider what work, if any, will continue to need to be undertaken by a vaccinated worker. There may be some specific roles within an early learning service where vaccination is needed in order to provide the greatest level of protection for those most vulnerable. An example of this may be where staff work in close contact with an immunocompromised child. There may also be other work that, after careful consideration, you consider requires vaccination.
It is unlikely that many service providers will determine through this risk assessment process that all workers (paid and unpaid) will need to be vaccinated.
It is important that you work with your staff and their representatives when identifying health and safety risks and how these will be managed. Your community is likely to want to understand if vaccinations are required and, if so, why this is the case.
You can continue to ask workers about their vaccination status if you have a good reason to do so, for example they are undertaking work which your health and safety assessment has identified requires vaccination as one of the measures to control these risks. However, as vaccination is personal information, employees will no longer be required to disclose this to you.
Further advice around assessing if specific work requires a vaccination is available from WorkSafe here:
MBIE and WorkSafe are also updating their guidance to reflect the removal of vaccine mandates, to support your risk assessment process. We will provide that updated information to you as soon as it becomes available.
We have provided a risk assessment template, which can also support you to look at other measures outside of mandating vaccinations, where you have identified some areas where your children, staff and volunteer workers might be more vulnerable to severe illness from COVID-19.
Continuing to encourage and support vaccination in your community will certainly be one measure you can use to add to those other layers of protection, and we will work with the Ministry of Health to support you to do that.
The Government’s decision is based upon the assessment that the mandates are no longer proportionate to the current risks with the other safety measures that are in place. This decision recognises that a large proportion of the workforce is now fully vaccinated and boosted. This provides an additional layer of protection to staff, children, and wider community. Other measures such as hand washing and hygiene measures and mask wearing will continue to provide layers of protection.
No. The removal of the mandate does not mean that unvaccinated staff members whose employment ended have a right to return to their former position, or to any other position. This includes employees who resigned because of their inability to comply with the mandate or whose employment was ended after a robust employment process. Your normal obligations to advertise vacancies and appoint on merit apply to all new appointments.
Employment agreements with replacement staff appointed while the vaccination requirements were in place are not changed by the removal of the mandates and remain valid.
Services should seek advice through their legal advisor if they have questions regarding specific situations involving past or current employment processes.
The decision to remove vaccine mandates has been based upon the assessment that they are no longer proportionate to the current risks from Omicron with the other mitigations that are in place. This recognises that a large proportion of the workforce is now fully vaccinated and boosted, which provides an additional layer of protection to staff, students, children, and wider community, and that other mitigating hygiene measures will continue to provide layers of protection.
Given this context, including that your workforce is highly vaccinated, your service will need to consider what work, if any, will continue to need to be undertaken by a vaccinated worker.
It is unlikely that many early learning services will determine through a risk assessment process that all workers (paid and unpaid) will need to be vaccinated.
Further advice around assessing if specific work requires a vaccination is available from WorkSafe here:
MBIE and WorkSafe are also updating their guidance to reflect the removal of vaccine mandates, to support your risk assessment process. We will provide that updated information to you as soon as it becomes available.
We recommend that you work with your staff and their representatives when identifying health and safety risks and how these will be managed. Your community is also likely to want to understand if vaccinations are required and, if so, why this is the case.
We recommend that early leaning services work with their employees and learning community to review their current risk assessments and health and safety policies around COVID-19.
Guidance to support this is available here:
COVID-19 Protection Framework (traffic light system)
Risk assessment for planning for omicron
Further advice around assessing if specific work requires a vaccination is available from WorkSafe,
In general no. Now that the vaccine mandates have been removed you will no longer have a specific legal requirement to ask for people’s vaccination status. Accordingly, requesting this would be the same as for any other private medical information.
However, you can continue to ask workers about their vaccination status if you have good reason to do so. For example, they are undertaking work which your health and safety assessment has identified requires vaccination as one of the measures to control these risks. You would need to have sufficient reason for requesting and holding the information and follow your normal processes for storing private information.
You should ensure the information you have collected and handled about an employee’s vaccination status is stored securely, in accordance with the Privacy Act.
Now that the mandatory vaccination requirements are removed, if you have not already filled the employee’s role, you should cancel the notice of termination of employment, as the reason for their employment to end will no longer be in effect.
If the role has been filled, seek advice from your employment advisor.
Any employment agreements entered into with staff to cover the leave of absence still apply. If these are tied to a specific date, then that date still applies, unless the parties agree to a new date.
At every level of the COVID-19 Protection Framework, children and staff can continue to attend early learning as there are a range of health and safety measures in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Their own vaccination status is a significant mitigation of risk from severe outcomes.
Because of these safety measures, including very high vaccination rates across most communities, education settings continue to be considered low risk for onward transmission.
Early learning service providers should take a health and safety risk-based approach to understand and investigate the concerns of their employees in good faith. You will need to determine an appropriate response in line with employer and employee duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015, and advice from the Ministry of Health. You should engage your health and safety committee and/or union delegates about the measures that are in place to sustain a healthy and safe workplace.
You can request a medical certificate from an employee who is at higher risk. This will also help you plan for a safe return to the workplace for your staff member. Staff should work with their GP or specialist if they need help understanding their own level of risk and how best to stay healthy.
If, after considering public health guidelines and health and safety advice, you do not agree the employee should stay away from the site, you should work with them to try to identify why they consider the work is unsafe, and rectify the matter, so far as is reasonably practicable.
While your employee’s health and safety concerns are being resolved, you may require them to carry out suitable alternative work either onsite or working from home. You may also agree on a leave arrangement such as annual leave (for non-teaching staff) or unpaid discretionary leave. Unless the employee is ill, sick leave will not apply.
Early learning services should continue to manage staff members’ individual circumstances in line with their usual leave policies and the relevant collective agreement provisions. The service provider should consult with the staff member now that the requirements to be vaccinated in order to work on site have changed.
No. The removal of the mandatory vaccination requirements does not introduce a new right for compensation.
It is important that you work with your staff and their representatives when considering the health and safety measures that are required to mitigate COVID-19 risks and communicate with parents and caregivers to provide confidence in the systems you have in place.
If the return to work of an unvaccinated employee is likely to cause tensions with other staff, the service provider may consider the use of professional counsellors to work with the relevant staff prior to the return of the unvaccinated employee. EAP services may also be appropriate to support the wellbeing of the returning staff member.
EAP Services are available to help with any work or life issues and to improve health and general wellbeing. EAP counselling is completely confidential and funded by the Ministry of Education until June 2022. All teaching and non-teaching staff across Early Learning Services (including Kōhanga Reo, Kindergartens, Playcentres and home-based services), are eligible to access this support. To request an in-person, phone, video or e-counselling appointment, phone 0800 327 669 or visit eapservices.co.nz.
Tracking and cases
All early learning services can choose to display QR Code posters for the NZ COVID Tracer App in a prominent place at or near the entrances.
If your service chooses to use them, you can generate your poster online at QR form COVID-19 (click ‘create your poster now’).
For questions or if you need several posters, email email@example.com
For more information see the Ministry of Health website
Yes. Continue to use your sign-in register so you know who is on site. People who cannot use the QR poster (they may not be able to have the App on their phone) can use the sign-in register.
Your contact tracing system should include QR code posters at your entrances, staff rosters, attendance register and visitor register.
If there is a case linked with your early learning service, you will be advised of that by the Medical Officer of Health or your local public health authority.
If you become aware of a case associated with your service, you will need to get in touch with your regional contact person to let us know you have a case. We will need to know whether the case is a:
- other staff member.
Early learning services no longer need to undertake contact tracing in their services under Phase 3 of the Omicron response.
Your local public health authority will have more information about what needs to happen in the case of a confirmed case within the service.
The table below covers scenarios where someone in the educator’s home (other than the educator) has tested positive for COVID-19 or is identified as a close contact.
In Phase 3, this
makes the educator
|Someone in the home has tested positive for COVID-19||A household close contact||Can we offer care at this home?||No.* Everyone who lives in the home needs to isolate, which means no visitors are allowed|
|Someone in the home has tested positive for COVID-19||A household close contact||Can an educator who lives here go to another home to provide care?||No. Everyone who lives in the home needs to isolate – no care can happen|
|Someone in the home is a close contact of a COVID-19 case||Not a contact||Can we offer care at this home?||Yes. Under Phase 3, the close contact needs to monitor for symptoms, however if they come down with symptoms and require a test, care cannot continue.|
|Someone in the home is a close contact of a COVID-19 case||Not a contact||Can an educator who lives here go to another home to provide care?||Yes. An educator could go to another home to provide care.|
*Note that live-in nanny type arrangements may be permitted as no one would be entering or leaving the premises to care to happen. However, this will depend on specific health advice around the particular isolation requirements for each home.
At Orange, it is expected that visiting teachers will generally carry out their monthly visits to support educators and observe children in person.
However, there may be situations where connecting with educators through electronic means (eg, Zoom, Facetime) in order to fulfil the visit requirements is the most appropriate option.
Your health and safety risk assessment, taking account of the circumstances present in each home and developed in consultation with educators, teachers and participating families, will be the basis of this decision.
Taking a child’s temperature is not part of the public health requirements for COVID-19.
If a child is showing signs of a fever or appears unwell on arrival at your service, you should first talk to the parent, whānau or caregiver about the child’s health. If the child is unwell, then the child should go home. We recommend the parent, whānau or caregiver also contact Healthline or their GP for advice.
You cannot take a child’s temperature, as a way of preventing their attendance, without the permission of the parent, whānau or caregiver.
A service can ask that a child does not attend if you have reasonable grounds to believe that the child may have a communicable disease, which includes COVID-19.
If a child becomes unwell while at the service, you may take their temperature as part of your usual first aid response to inform medical practitioners or parents.
Best practice to prevent COVID-19 from spreading at an early learning service, continues to be asking people to stay away if they feel ill, good cough/sneeze etiquette and washing hands regularly.
Children and staff are not required to wear face masks in early learning services and early learning services are not expected to provide face masks for children or staff. It remains an option for those individuals and a decision for the individuals and parents/caregivers.
In the Red setting, parents and caregivers are required to wear face masks whilst inside the service. Under the Orange setting, the wearing of face masks by parents and caregivers is recommended whilst inside the service.
Yes, as playgroups are classified as close proximity businesses, all workers, parents/caregivers and visitors attending will need to wear masks indoors.
At the Red setting, visitors (including parents and caregivers) are legally required to wear face masks when coming indoors at a licensed early childhood service.
At the Orange setting, face masks are encouraged for visitors. The traffic light system does not prevent you from making decisions about additional health and safety measures based on the circumstances of your local community. It is your choice to make face masks a requirement if you consider it is an appropriate health and safety measure as part of your risk assessment and management plan, provided that the measure is not discriminatory against particular people or groups.
Some people may have a face mask exemption due to their disability or health condition that makes wearing a face mask unsuitable. You should take this into account if you choose to have a policy around face masks. The Human Rights Commission website has guidance about face mask exemptions for you to consider.
We do not have a list of approved/non-approved resources. Playgroups should consider risks involved in the activities they choose to offer and mitigate these accordingly. For example, spacing between children or individual stations or portions.
No. Under the COVID-19 Protection Framework, all licensed early childhood services are prohibited from requiring proof of vaccination (either via My Vaccine Pass or other tools) as a condition of entry, use or access to education.
You are prohibited from requiring proof of vaccination (either via My Vaccine Pass or other tools) as a condition of entry, use or access to education.
As you cannot require proof of vaccination from parents, you therefore cannot prevent parents from coming on site.
Yes, but you must ensure you are not introducing a measure that will deny or restrict parents or caregivers entry, use or access to education based on their vaccination status.
The traffic light system does not prevent you from making decisions about additional health and safety measures based on the circumstances of your local community. You can consider implementing any health and safety measure that you consider is appropriate as part of your risk assessment and management plan, provided that the measure is not discriminatory against particular people or groups.
We have guidance on a range of mitigations for you to consider. We recommend you work with your staff and talk to your families as part of deciding which mitigations are appropriate for your circumstances.
COVID-19 Protection Framework
Travel is not restricted within and across boundaries in the COVID-19 Protection Framework, for example, if you are moving from a Red setting to an Orange setting.
Under the traffic light framework services are open. At the Red setting, our guidance is that parents/caregivers who can supervise their children at home are encouraged to do so. This doesn’t prevent parent led services from opening.
At the Red setting, children can attend more than one service, but parents/caregivers are encouraged to consider minimising the number of children and other adults their children are interacting with.
We have updated our guidance to reflect this.
At the Red setting, parents/caregivers who are able to supervise their children at home are encouraged to do so. However, all licensed early learning services should be open for anyone seeking to attend.
If you think you may need to limit capacity, your policy for how you will do this should be developed in consultation with your parent community.
Under the traffic light system which took effect on 3 December, you cannot require evidence of vaccination for children and their parents or caregivers if they are there to access education.
Gatherings that are not part of an early learning service’s normal operations (e.g. end-of-year show or holiday celebration) can continue to go ahead at any setting of the traffic light system as long as health restrictions for gatherings or events are followed. These may be attended by parents or caregivers, and may either take place during or after licensed hours.
At Orange and Red settings, limiting gatherings and limiting non-essential visitors on site are mitigations you can consider as part of your COVID-19 safety plan. You are able to make your own choice and implement any mitigations that you feel may be appropriate.
You can choose to require evidence of vaccination (My Vaccine Pass) as a condition for those that participate in a gathering, including parents or caregivers. There are different gathering rules depending on the traffic light setting and whether you choose to require evidence of vaccination.
More information about gathering rules at Orange and Red settings is available here:
There is no requirement for centre-based teacher-led services to arrange children and staff bubbles under the COVID-19 Protection Framework. While parents are encouraged to supervise their children at home there is no requirement to do so. This messaging does not prevent parent-led services from opening. If services consider it is necessary to take additional precautions to help mitigate risk of transmission they can make choices about their capacity to manage attendance or strengthening public health measures.
All services will need to carry out a risk assessment and implement any mitigations they consider necessary.
The Employment NZ website provides useful information for both employers and employees so this is a good place to start if you are navigating employment matters such as leave and pay. The website also provides information on the best way to prevent and resolve problems.
Employment New Zealand website
For many early learning service providers and staff, there is a lot of work that can still be done from home while COVID-19 restrictions are in place.
If staff are asked to work from home, they should consider this request in good faith, bearing in mind the circumstances at home and whether they can work safely.
Further information about changing an employee’s working arrangements from their usual day-to-day tasks is available on the Employment NZ website.
Regardless of the challenging circumstances we may be experiencing due to COVID-19, regular employment law applies to all employment relationships. This includes anything that has been agreed to in an employment agreement, including pay provisions.
Under no circumstances can employers pay less than the minimum wage or reduce any of employees’ legal minimum employment entitlements.
Employers and employees need to discuss, in good faith, any changes in work arrangements, leave and pay, or health and safety measures. Any changes can only be made with both parties’ agreement in writing.
Further information on modifying employment agreements is available on the Employment NZ website.
Staff at higher-risk of severe illness from COVID-19 (eg, older people and those with underlying medical conditions, especially if not well-controlled) are able to work, but should take additional precautions when leaving home.
At risk people who have been fully vaccinated should feel safe to go out and about at all colour settings.
Staff and employers should discuss and agree whether additional control measures can be put in place, whether these workers can work from home, or if not, what leave and pay arrangements will apply.
Staff to work with their GP or specialist if they need help understanding their own level of risk and how best to stay healthy.
For further information go to the COVID-19 website.
An EC12 form can be applied to children who do not attend due to either being Covid-19 positive or isolating due to a positive case in their household. The EC13 Form (Supporting Medical Certificate) can be signed by the parent / caregiver instead of a medical practitioner.
Where absence continues after 4 weeks, parents/caregivers will need to complete a ‘statement of intention to return’ or provide similar evidence that indicates that a child has not permanently left the service for this continued funding.
Funding for an enrolled child begins on the planned start date of their enrolment agreement.
As per chapter 3-A-1 of the Funding Handbook, when a child does not attend on their planned start date, if there was a signed enrolment agreement in place then you can claim one week of absences.
The Ministry will recover funding claimed for absences where there is no signed enrolment agreement for the child.
Licensed services that have insufficient available staffing because staff have COVID-19 or are required by health authorities to self-isolate, may continue to be funded by the Ministry of Education, if they are closed for these reasons.
You will need to apply for an Emergency Closure through your local Ministry office, these will be looked at on a case-by-case basis.
If this is approved, you should apply the Emergency Closure (EC) code in your Student Management System.
If your service chooses to stay closed for any other reason, then you will not be funded and should use the Service Closed (SC) code in your Student Management System.
For emergency closures due to outages to key services (e.g., water or power) or infrastructure disruptions (e.g., road closures) that are planned or as the result of weather events, fire, or earthquake we require:
A written request with appropriate documentation to demonstrate when the closure is required or has occurred. Please provide the date and times of the outages and when the service(s) and/or infrastructure will be restored.
Refer to the Funding Handbook for further information requirements for emergency closures.
Where emergency closures are caused by severe weather conditions or Civil Defence emergencies are declared, evidence may be able to be provided from the Mataara system. In these situations, where necessary, bulk approvals of emergency closures would be arranged through the Ministry’s National Office.
For emergency closures due to Covid-19 and/or winter illness we require:
a written request with confirmation of the number of staff affected (but not their names)
why you are unable to staff the service (this will vary from service to service), and
the time frame concerned.
The advance funding for February 2022 paid in November 2021, will not be clawed back in July. If your actual Funded Child Hour (FCH) entitlement for February is less than the February advance funding, resulting in a negative wash-up, it will not be clawed back.
If your service does generate a negative wash-up, your 1 July funding notice will show the deduction as the system does not allow for the negative wash-up to be disregarded. However, we will reimburse eligible services for this amount on 20 July 2022.
The Frequent Absence rule period was re-set from 1 June 2022, meaning earlier absence patterns can be disregarded. June will consequently become month one. This applies to all early learning services in all regions.
The ECE Operational Funding subsidy is for each child for up to 6 hours a day. If your service have reduced operational hours, for example from 10 hours to 8 hours each day, this should not affect your ECE subsidy funding that is up to 6 hours a day for each child. However, there are also other funding sources like WINZ subsidies and parent fees to consider.
Distance learning should be provided where available for those required to self-isolate, those individuals who health authorities have asked to stay away while waiting for a test result, or those choosing to remain at home because they are vulnerable to illness.
Learning support staff and independent early intervention providers are available.
If you are concerned about how children with learning support needs will be supported, please contact your local Ministry office.
If tamariki need to learn from home (or wherever they’ve based), we have a range of resources and guidance available on our Learning from Home and Ki te Ao Marama websites to support this.
The Ministry has also reactivated distance learning broadcasts through TVNZ and Māori Television. This includes lots of new content as well as some of the existing content (and familiar faces) from 2020. This content is suitable for a range of ages.
Note that the broadcasting schedule is available online and we invite you to share these links with parents, caregivers and whānau:
In addition, on-demand content can be found here:
- Home Learning TV can be accessed On Demand or via the TVNZ App on a device (mobile phone, smart TV, or tablet); and
- Mauri Reo, Mauri Ora can be accessed on demand from Māori TV.
The Ministry of Social Development (MSD) will continue to pay the MSD childcare subsidy and OSCAR subsidy, where services:
- must close due to COVID-19 restrictions,
- is connected to a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19 and has been instructed to close,
- is not able to operate safely and within public health guidelines,
- temporarily does not have any children needing childcare because of COVID-19, or
a child is absent due to COVID-19, for example, they are:
- sick with COVID-19 and cannot attend childcare
- at high risk of severe illness if they get COVID-19, based on Ministry of Health guidelines
- in self-isolation or quarantine due to COVID-19 public health requirements
- connected to a confirmed or probable case of COVID-19.
People getting a subsidy must remain eligible for MSD childcare assistance in order for these payments to continue.
Since 25 August 2020, the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) has been able to keep paying Childcare Assistance (i.e. the Childcare Subsidy and the OSCAR Subsidy) to approved providers so long as clients remain otherwise entitled to the subsidy. This is regardless of whether or not the provider charges a fee for holding open the places of children who are absent.
The reason for Childcare Assistance continuing to be paid is to help providers remain viable. Providers should treat the Childcare Assistance received as income in the same way that it is treated during normal circumstances. MSD does not expect providers to use the Childcare Assistance that is paid to credit parents’ future fees.
We recommend all services check the Government’s COVID-19 website. It details the range of financial supports available to employers, employees, those who are self-employed or have lost their job due to COVID-19. Information about eligibility for support and how to apply is included on this website.
There is a COVID-19 Short-Term Absence Payment which can assist some services. These services must have employees that need to isolate at home whilst they await the results from a COVID-19 test. This payment is there to support services to continue to pay their employees and potentially assist with relief work. You can read more about this on the Work and Income website.
The COVID-19 Support Payment (CSP) is a payment to help support viable and ongoing businesses or organisations which have experienced a 40% or more drop in revenue as a result of one or more of the following COVID-19 circumstances:
- the widespread presence of COVID-19 in the community in New Zealand
- the public health legislative measures taken in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the New Zealand community
- any business circumstances that are, or are reasonably likely to be, a consequence of the circumstances described above.
Yes, all teachers and support staff have access to EAP wellbeing support services until June 2022.
There are up to three confidential individual one-on-one counselling sessions available.
There will be no charge for these services. However, they are not intended to replace existing services offer by employers, but rather to be in addition to the current provision for a specific period of time.
Further information about these EAP services can be found on the Education website.
Workforce Wellbeing Package
EAP will be in contact with services with further details. If you have any questions call 0800 327 669 or visit the EAP website.
If you are aware there are people in your community who cannot get access to essential goods such as food, they can contact the local Emergency Coordination Centres (ECC), part of Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Groups.
These groups coordinate the regional multi-agency response and provide a range of support activities. This is intended for people who don’t have any other options available to them and operates seven days a week from 7 am to 7 pm.
The All of Government Welfare Number (0800 779 997) is available seven days a week, providing welfare information and support for individuals in isolation.
The Government has made additional funding available to support the wellbeing of disabled people who usually access MSD funded Community Participation and Very High Needs services. Refer Disability Directorate update for 30 March 2020.
Further information on MSD supports: Supporting providers through COVID-19 – MSD website
Careers NZ and IHC have launched WeCare.Kiwi to make it easy to care for and about each other. If you’re on your own during the lockdown or caring for a vulnerable person, you may need some support.
The Ministry of Social Development have increased income limits for hardship assistance from 1 November 2021 to 28 February 2022. Go to their website to check if your family is eligible for this assistance. All answers are confidential and nor will they be used or saved in any way. You do not need to be receiving the benefit to be eligible for this assistance.