The hypothesis had been raised by school principals, the National Association of School Leaders (ANDE), was admitted by the prime minister and now decided by the Government. António Costa had said it was “an issue where politicians must act in the light of the best technical information available”, but one day after the National Council for Public Health decided not to recommend the closure of all schools – insisting that this only was justified on a case-by-case basis, by direct order from the General Directorate of Health—, the executive decided to move forward.
The precautionary measure serves to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus among the youngest, but it raises some problems for parents.
There are several issues, professional and emotional, that suddenly appear. What will happen if parents are forced to leave their jobs to take care of their children at home? And can they do it without losing income? How should parents explain to children an unexpected vacation? What care should they take and how should they be told about the risks associated with the outbreak, without messing them up but ensuring that they are alert to appropriate preventive behaviors?
Earlier this week, with the increase in the number of confirmed cases of infection by Covid-19 in Portugal, the Government was advancing with the news of new support: it would ask, as announced by the Minister of Labor, Ana Mendes Godinho, for an authorization legislation to facilitate the lay-off regime (temporary reduction of normal working periods or suspension of employment contracts) in the companies most affected in their activity by the new coronavirus.
The measure takes into account the reduction in productivity and consumption felt in public and private companies following the spread of the contagious outbreak, which has already caused more than 4,000 deaths worldwide – more than 3,100 of which in China.
The decision to close all schools, however, raises concrete labor problems for workers who are also parents. To compensate them, the Government will apply different measures to employees and to the self-employed:
- employees who stay at home because of children under the age of 12 will receive 66% of the salary – 33% paid by the employer, 33% paid by Security;
- self-employed workers staying at home because of children under the age of 12 will receive one-third of their average pay. In addition, they will have extraordinary support for the reduction of their activity and a postponement in the payment of their contributions.
Compensation can be given, alternately, to each of the child's parents – but not simultaneously.
This clarifies the question of whether the anticipation of Easter school holidays would prevent parents from having access to family assistance compensation. If the anticipation simply transposed the regime provided for the other usual school holiday periods, parents would have to find a solution to adapt their lives, as they would not be entitled to remuneration in the event of absence from work. The possibility of leaving children with their grandparents would, however, be potentially problematic in a situation of the spread of an infectious outbreak that has higher mortality rates among risk groups, namely the elderly.
Another concern – which already existed with the increase in cases, but which gains other dimensions with the decision to close all schools – involves recommendations to parents of health authorities and the Government. The Government recommends that children stay at home, avoiding public spaces with many people, to prevent the spread of the virus – with a necessarily greater impact on children.
The way in which parents should deal with children and explain to their children the existence and worldwide spread of the Covid-19 outbreak is the subject of debate since concerns have increased with the increase in the number of confirmed infection cases in China, first, and in Italy, afterwards.