Coronavirus – what you need to know


*This page was last updated on 21 February, 2022*

(Includes guidance for those working in nurseries and the early years plus links to government guidance and resources.)

For more detailed information about coronavirus and the early years sector please visit our Covid-19 section.

We are constantly updating our Q&A page to make sure you have all the latest updates. The answers are based on the latest government guidance as soon as we get it. 

Read our Operating during lockdown and beyond Q&A or please refer to the government's Actions for early years and childcare providers during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak 

Early years settings no longer need to report Covid-19 cases to Ofsted

The Department for Education has announced that from today (Monday 21 February), early years providers are no longer required to notify Ofsted or their childminder agency of cases of Covid-19 within their settings. This applies regardless of whether the positive case is a child who attends the setting or a staff member.

Additionally, settings do not need to notify Ofsted of any cases that have happened within the last 14 days and are yet to be reported. The news story confirming the change is available here.

The change is consistent across all Ofsted-regulated services and is intended to relieve the reporting burden on settings. All other incidents that require reporting to Ofsted should continue.

Ofsted has therefore now withdrawn the specific guidance on the requirement to report Covid-19 cases and the following guidance has been updated to reflect this change:

Self-isolation cut to five full days

Those who have tested positive for Covid-19 will be able to end their self-isolation after five days from Monday 17 January, the government has confirmed.

People self-isolating with Covid-19 will have the option to end their isolation period at the start of day six of isolation if they receive negative lateral flow test results on days five and six, and do not have a temperature.

The government says that the changes have been made "after careful consideration of modelling from the UK Health Security Agency and to support essential public services and workforces over the winter".

Read more

DfE confirms Covid-19 to be 'exceptional circumstance'

The Department for Education (DfE) has confirmed that, in light of the significant pressures that the Omicron variant is placing on early years settings – in particular, the huge rise in staff absences – the government considers Covid-19 to be an ‘exceptional circumstance’ on which basis the ratio requirements in the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework can temporarily be changed.

This is not a change to early years guidance.

There is already a provision in the EYFS (paragraph 3.31) for exceptions to ratios to be made in exceptional circumstances – it states: "Exceptionally, and where the quality of care and safety and security of children is maintained, changes to the ratios may be made." 

The update is that the DfE has now confirmed Covid-19 is considered to be an exceptional circumstance.

The DfE has stated the following:

"It remains a priority to continue providing face to face education and childcare, but we know that COVID-19 continues to put early years settings under significant pressure, particularly in relation to workforce absence.

"Government considers COVID-19 to be an exceptional circumstance in which the staff-to-child ratios set out in the EYFS can temporarily be changed if necessary, for example to respond to COVID-related workforce absences. This relates to paragraph 3.31 in the EYFS.

"In some cases, providers may choose to respond to staff and child absences by temporarily mixing age groups of children who would otherwise be educated or cared for separately. Ratios should be guided by all relevant requirements and by the needs of individual children within the group. For the purposes of meeting EYFS ratio and qualification requirements, all staff educating or caring for a mixed age group of children can be considered ‘available to work directly with’ all the children who have been grouped together.

"In all circumstances, settings remain responsible for maintaining the quality of care, safety and security of children."

Government temporarily scraps confirmatory PCR tests

The government has confirmed that, as of Tuesday 11 January, people living in England who receive a positive lateral flow result will not be required to take a confirmatory PCR test.

The government has stated this is a temporary measure while Covid-19 rates remain high across the UK as "whilst levels of Covid-19 are high, the vast majority of people with positive LFD [lateral flow device] results can be confident that they have Covid-19".

Under this new approach, anyone who receives a positive lateral flow test result should report their result on and must self-isolate immediately but will not need to take a follow-up PCR test. After reporting a positive lateral flow test result, they will be contacted by NHS Test and Trace so that their contacts can be traced and must continue to self-isolate.

The government has confirmed a few exceptions to this revised approach:

  • People who are eligible for the £500 Test and Trace Support Payment who will still be asked to take a confirmatory PCR if they receive a positive lateral flow test result to enable them to access financial support.
  • People participating in research or surveillance programmes who may still be asked to take a follow-up PCR test, according to the research or surveillance protocol.
  • People in England who are at particular risk of becoming seriously ill from Covid-19, have been identified by the NHS as being potentially eligible for new treatments and will be receiving a PCR test kit at home by mid-January to use if they develop symptoms or if they get a positive lateral flow result, as they may be eligible for new treatments if they receive a positive PCR result.

Ofsted: Settings can request to defer

Ofsted has provided information on changes to their inspection programme in light of the ongoing pandemic. 

They have confirmed that inspections have not been suspended and that they will “continue to prioritise places where we have concerns, returning to inadequate and requires improvement providers, those we didn’t see in the last cycle and those newly registered and not yet seen”. Their registration and approvals work will also continue.

However, Ofsted has also said that, as they are not currently asking Ofsted inspectors who are serving practitioners to undertake inspections, this will naturally scale back their activity. 

In addition, Ofsted are encouraging anyone that feels unable to go ahead with a planned inspection to let them know at the point when they are notified about the inspection. Ofsted has confirmed that they will check on the notification call whether a setting feels that it can go ahead with the inspection and that if the setting requests a deferral, that they would look at that request "favourably and sensitively”, unless they have urgent safeguarding concerns.  

Ofsted’s formal deferral policy is available here.

New guidance on using C02 monitors

The DfE has published guidance on how to use CO2 monitors in early years settings.

Read the guidance

The Alliance is continuing to call on government to make the monitors available to ALL early years providers, including childminders.

Government updates Covid-19 advice to parents and carers of children in early years settings

The government has updated its Covid-19 advice to parents and carers of children in early years settings and schools, in light of the Omicron variant and rising cases. It contains updated guidance on school attendance, use of face coverings, contact tracing and isolation, wraparound provision and use of the NHS COVID Pass. Read the updates and guidance in full here.

Read the guidance in full here


— We have produced a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) guide on various aspects of operating during lockdown and beyond.

— For any questions on financial support during this time please see our FAQs for providers on our Business Advice page.

— Our Baby and Toddler group FAQ page answers some of your key questions about reopening during the pandemic.

Coronavirus helpline

The Department for Education has a helpline for early years providers, schools and colleges – as well as parents, carers and young people – who have questions about coronavirus.

If you have specific questions about the virus call:

0800 046 8687




The government has also published guidance for parents on the issue of parent fees during closures: "We are asking providers to be reasonable and balanced in their dealings with parents".

The full government parent guidance is available here.

Key links for providers

Actions for early years and childcare providers during the coronavirus outbreak

COVID-19: Cleaning of non-healthcare settings

Safe working in education, childcare and children’s social care settings, including the use of personal protective equipment (PPE)

Coronavirus (Covid-19): early years and childcare closures

Guidance for education and childcare settings on how to implement social distancing

Guidance on maintaining educational provision

Guidance for schools, colleges and local authorities on maintaining educational provision

COVID 19 - Guidance for Educational Setttings (DfE)

What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are a common type of virus. They typically cause fever and a cough, which may progress to more severe pneumonia, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties in some people, according to Public Health England (PHE).

Novel coronavirus (2019-nCov) is a new strain of coronavirus first identified in Wuhan City, Hubei province, China. The current evidence is that most cases appear to be mild and most of those who have died have had pre-existing health conditions.

Because little is known about this new strain of the virus, it is not clear how it is spread, however, similar viruses tend to be spread by coughs and sneezes – so the way the infection gains entry to the body is the same as the way it exits and spreads to others.

It is also possible that the virus may be spread by touching a surface or object that has been coughed or sneezed on by someone with the virus – such as by touching a doorknob or shaking hands with someone and then touching your face.

There is currently no specific cure for the new coronavirus so treatment is aimed at relieving the symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

The NHS advises that symptoms of the coronavirus usually include:

  • feeling tired
  • difficulty breathing
  • a high temperature
  • a persistent cough
  • a loss or changed sense of smell or taste (also called anosmia) 

Key health information links

You may wish to signpost staff and parents to credible sources of further information about coronavirus.

These sites will have all the official information you will need and should ideally be the only source of information you refer to:

COVID 19: Guidance for educational settings (DfE and Public Health England)

Coronarvirus: latest information and advice (Department of Health and Social Care and Public Health England)

Coronavirus FAQs (NHS)

Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) - what you need to know (Public Health England)


For more detailed information about coronavirus and the early years sector please visit our Covid-19 section.