Covid in Scotland: Call to ease mother-and-baby group restrictions

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Childcare group

Parents and childcare businesses have called for Covid-19 restrictions around group activities for parents and young children to be relaxed.

Scottish government guidance limits the group sessions to a maximum of 10 people of all ages, with no more than five adults.

But operators said their businesses were no longer financially viable and some had already folded due to Covid.

More than 7,000 people have also signed a petition backing relaxed limits.

The government said the restriction was in place to protect public health.

Owners of childcare businesses told BBC Scotland's The Nine that they had only just reopened with new measures in place to reduce the risk of spreading Covid-19.

Image caption,
Louisa Fairley, who runs music and movement classes for parents and young children, has had to cancel sessions

Louisa Fairley, who runs Moo Music activity classes in the Highlands, said she had been forced to cancel some of her sold-out sessions, which usually involved either 15 or 20 adults.

She had introduced social distancing measures and hand sanitising, and was giving children their own bag of props to bring to classes.

She said she would need to run 10 classes a day to make her business viable under the limits.

Ms Fairley said she would offer activities online, as she had done during lockdown, but that this did not offer the same enriched experience as face-to-face classes.

She said: "I have babies who have come along who have never seen another baby because they were born in lockdown. It is so important to these little people's development.

"I can't understand why early years have been so overlooked.

"It's so important for these wee ones when their brains are just growing - they are fantastic, they are like little sponges - and their parents also need the companionship of other parents."

Image caption,
Jennifer Neil says she has been left angry and upset by the restrictions

Jennifer Neil runs children's activities in Glasgow as part of the Wow World Group, which has franchises across Scotland.

She said about 10 other franchises had folded because of Covid-19, and that the latest restrictions meant her business would only be able to cater for a fraction of its customers.

Ms Neil said: "It makes me very angry, upset and it's very stressful.

"Mother-and-toddler might be somebody's lifeline, with once a week being the only time that mum gets to speak to other mums."

Louise Fraser, from Physi-ball Inverness, usually offers activities to groups of up to 12 children depending on the size of hall. She was due to open in late October.

Image caption,
Louise Fraser said she thought she had taken adequate measures to meet rules around Covid-19

She said: "Last week I reduced my numbers to eight thinking that would be the right amount for the guidelines and my risk assessment."

Ms Fraser said cutting back further would make her business unsustainable.

The restrictions on mother-and-baby groups were raised at the Scottish government's Covid-19 briefings this week.

On Tuesday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said she was not "immediately aware" of the guidance, but had asked her officials to investigate.

She said it sounded "unduly restrictive" if parents of young children were not allowed to gather together.

On Wednesday, the first minister said the restriction was in place because of the need to cut down on transmission from family to family.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said new ways to deliver the service were needed

She said "none of these restrictions are easy", especially for new mums, and that "new ways" were needed to deliver the service, including holding more sessions.

A Scottish government spokeswoman said the restrictions were in place to protect public health.

"We know that baby and toddler groups help with the development of babies and toddlers social and emotional health, and that of new mothers, fathers and grandparents and are an invaluable resource for some families," she said.

"As such, where possible we would advise that additional sessions are provided to allow as many people as possible to take part."