COVID-19: 1 more staff from Fengshan Sparkletots preschool infected; total 19 including principal

A PCF Sparkletots preschool in Woodlands. (Yahoo News Singapore file photo)

SINGAPORE — At least 19 cases of COVID-19 are now linked to the Fengshan PAP Community Foundation (PCF) Sparkletots preschool in Bedok North, as another teacher at the centre tested positive for the virus on Thursday (26 March) morning.

The new case was revealed by Social and Family Development Minister Desmond Lee to reporters on the same day.

This means that 15 staff members and four family members of the centre’s principal – who do not stay with her – have been confirmed as cases linked to the new cluster.

It is one of two new clusters announced by the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Wednesday, the other being Dover Court International School linked to three patients out of a total of 631 cases here.

"Some may perceive that in this particular case, some teachers who were not well ought to have left the centre immediately, rather than carry on with their duties for a couple more hours,” said Lee.

“But I hope that parents, public and other colleagues, recognise the realities on the ground, and not look at it in a two dimensional way.”

That is because “the teachers concerned, the operators, managers, on hindsight have seen facts” and will “take necessary measures hereafter...in order to hold to account the causes of what happened”, he added.

"Nevertheless, this is not the time for us to pin and assign blame. The key is to make sure that we uplift and uphold the entire sector, in order to continue to give assurance to parents,” Lee said.

He noted that while “anecdotal checks” indicate preschool attendance remains high across some 1,900 centres – run by about 400 operators – here, he acknowledged that some parents have opted to keep their children at home during the pandemic.

“(Some) feel concerned and think that the whole sector ought to perhaps be shut down for this period. They have kept their children at home because they have alternatives, or made alternative arrangements because of their concerns,” Lee added.

“We respect that, we understand that. And that is why the ECDA (Early Childhood Development Agency) had waived the one-day attendance requirement each month for them to be eligible for preschool subsidies.” 

Lee’s comments after the ECDA announced on Wednesday that all PCF Sparkletots centres will be closed from Thursday to Sunday.

The Fengshan centre – located at 126 Bedok North Street 2 – will be closed for 14 days from Tuesday to 7 April. All children and staff who were present there between 16 March and Tuesday were placed on quarantine.

During the closure, PCF Sparkletots will review and reiterate its enhanced precautionary measures with staff as well as to undertake cleaning and disinfection of all its premises, the ECDA had said.

It added that it is closely monitoring the situation, and working with the management, staff, parents, and children at the preschool to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all.

PCF CEO Victor Bay had separately on Wednesday said in a statement that the preschool operator, which runs 360 preschools attended by over 40,000 children, will fully comply with the ECDA’s requirements.

“In addition, we will form an internal committee of inquiry to investigate the matter, with a view to taking appropriate staff disciplinary action where warranted,” said Bay.

“We will also review our SOPs (standard operating procedures) to identify any gaps and tighten processes to ensure full compliance.”

Timeline of cases: Fengshan PCF Sparkletots

A Nursery 2 teacher from the Fengshan centre had first tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday.

As she was last present in the preschool on 18 March and was well at the time, the ECDA and the MOH had decided that there was no need to close the preschool, but instead allowed it to close for a day for thorough cleaning and disinfection, said the ECDA.

But on Tuesday, the ECDA and the MOH found other staff reporting that they had recently felt unwell.

As a precaution, the ECDA has closed the preschool for 14 days from Tuesday to 7 April, and the MOH sent these staff immediately for testing.

On Wednesday, 13 more staff from the preschool, including teaching and non-teaching staff, tested positive for COVID-19.

Among the 14 staff in total who tested positive for the virus is the centre’s principal.

The principal was well when she was at work on 17 March, but developed symptoms in the afternoon. On that day, she had a meeting with her staff and later attended a course with other preschool staff in the evening.