SINGAPORE - Children - and some of their parents - at a PAP Community Foundation (PCF) Sparkletots centre in Fengshan, which has been identified as a Covid-19 cluster, have been served with quarantine orders.
Other parents are scrambling to make alternative care arrangements for their pre-school-going children as all 360 PCF Sparkletots centres islandwide close for four days from Thursday (March 26).
PCF Sparkletots is the largest pre-school operator in Singapore, with over 40,000 children enrolled across its centres.
The closure of centres comes after PCF Sparkletots @ Fengshan Block 126 emerged on Wednesday as a new Covid-19 cluster, with 20 coronavirus cases linked to it so far. Fifteen cases are staff and five are their family members. The centre's remaining 10 staff and about 110 students are now in quarantine.
Another 30 staff from other PCF centres have also been placed under quarantine as they had attended a training course with the Fengshan centre's principal, who is a confirmed case.
Housewife Merry Chew, 34, and her daughter, two, who attends the Fengshan Block 126 branch, were served with quarantine orders on Thursday at their flat in Bedok. She has to be quarantined along with her daughter as she is her main caregiver, said Mrs Chew.
She said the centre had sent out an e-mail on Monday informing parents that a Nursery 2 teacher had tested positive for the coronavirus.
"The sent another e-mail to update us the next day that more staff had reported feeling unwell. They called us to make sure we were all aware about it."
"The centre is doing its best to protect our kids. All of the teachers are really good," she said. "This is not their fault for sure."
Mrs Chew said that she was worried by the large number of cases from the centre, but added that the coronavirus "is everywhere - you're either lucky or unlucky".
She has asked her mother-in-law to move in and help take care of her younger child, who is 10 months old.
In a letter to parents on Tuesday seen by The Straits Times, the centre said it would be closed for two weeks and reopen on April 8, unless otherwise advised by the Early Childhood Development Agency.
Parents from other PCF centres said they were informed of the centre closures only late on Wednesday night and had to rush to make last-minute care arrangements.
Ms Edwina Cheang, 25, who is a teacher in a private pre-school centre, has a daughter enrolled at a PCF Sparkletots centre in Buona Vista.
She said she got a call at 11pm on Wednesday, and had to apply for urgent leave on Thursday and Friday.
Sales assistant Sery Shida, 27, said her supervisor was able to find someone to cover her shifts over the next two days.
Said Mrs Shida, who has two sons who go to a Yishun PCF branch and one son in primary school: "But if there is prolonged closure, I'll have to ask my mother-in-law for a helping hand. Honestly, it's not easy to handle all of them. When I take my eldest son to school in the morning and pick him up in the afternoon, I have to take along the two younger ones."
News of the other 30 staff across other PCF centres being quarantined also spooked some parents.
Mrs Jean Ong, 31, has a son attending PCF Sparkletots @ Fengshan Block 115, close to the affected centre. She said that when she first heard the news, she was not worried as it was a different centre from her son's.
"But when I read the news about how 30 staff from other PCF centres have been placed under quarantine because they attended a training course with the Fengshan PCF centre's principal, questions started to pop up in my head," said the sales executive.
Mrs Ong later received a call, on Thursday afternoon, from her son's centre to inform her that its principal was one of the 30 employees who had been quarantined.
She said: "It had been a week since the two principals had contact. And our principal had been in school for the past week, and surely interacted with teachers.
"We won't know if our principal has contracted Covid-19 and passed it to my son's teachers."
She said she will not be allowing her son to go to school next week even if it reopens, and will be monitoring the situation closely.
Another parent, Ms Nurul Huda, 34, who has two children attending a PCF Sparkletots centre in Choa Chu Kang, also said she does not intend to let them go back to school "until there is a visible improvement in the figures".
Said Ms Nurul, who is a private tutor: "No one knows how many people (the 30 quarantined staff) had interacted and had contact with."
"It is a good measure to close all the centres," she said, but added that the four-day closure could be insufficient.
"The incubation period is 14 days. With only four days of closure, what happens if new cases emerge after the centres reopen?"
However, some parents are open to allowing their kids to go back to school on Monday, when the centres reopen.
A civil servant who has twins attending a PCF centre at Fengshan Block 184 said the four-day closure is necessary for PCF to "review their processes and take time to do another round of deep cleaning of the centres".
The 33-year-old, who wanted to be called Ms Ye, said: "The school closure is troublesome and it was done very late - a lot of parents were scrambling - but I feel for the poor teachers who had to come back and call parents too.
"I will send my kids back to school (when centres reopen on Monday). I trust PCF's processes and it's just one centre which seems to have a lapse... we have to be brave and also hope that all partners have to be socially responsible."