The Unison union is saying that nurseries should close to all but vulnerable children and those of key workers, amid concerns from staff about keeping them open
In Scotland and Northern Ireland, nurseries are closed along with other schools. But in England and Wales, they remain open.
The union says the whole of the UK should treat nurseries and schools the same.
This comes after Michael Gove has warned that there are “very, very difficult weeks ahead” as England battles to reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country, which is being driven by a new COVID variant that has been judged to be between 50% and 70% more transmissible than the previous one.
Unison’s head of education, Jon Richards, says: “Keeping nurseries and other pre-schools open puts staff and communities at risk.
“Social distancing is impossible with young children and the government has yet to publish the scientific evidence to justify nurseries being treated differently to schools.”
Earlier, we heard from vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi, who defended keeping them open in England, saying nursery schools present “very little risk” and are Covid-safe.
Nursery schools present “very little risk” and are Covid-safe, vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi has said, as he defended keeping them open.
Mr Zahawi contrasted nurseries with schools, which were closed because they had been “vectors for the new variant”.
Early years providers have called for mass testing and for their staff to be prioritised for vaccination.
Announcing the national lockdown for England on Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised: “Everyone will still be able to access early years settings such as nurseries.”
In Scotland and Northern Ireland, nurseries are closed along with other schools. But in Wales they also remain open.
This comes after during a UK coronavirus press conference, on a question about the new variant of COVID-19, Chris Whitty says the threat at the moment is “extraordinarily high” if people do not adhere to the lockdown rules.
One nursery owner in Weston-super-Mare, Somerset, told the BBC that a prolonged closure carried the risk of going out of business but said it was hard to reassure staff on safety when he did not have “any of the facts”.
“I’ve come in this morning and I’ve got staff crying and saying they are scared of this new variant,” said Paul Trauberman, of the Rainbow Smiles nursery.
The Early Years Alliance, which represents nursery providers, said most nurseries wanted to stay open but do not feel confident they have the support and protection they need.
Some which share sites with schools have been given the discretion to close by the government guidance and some others have independently decided to shut, the alliance said.
The alliance is calling for mass testing at nurseries and priority access to vaccines for their staff, many of whom are over 50.