The COVID-19 pandemic is now a “runaway freight train,” according to one child care centre CEO trying to deal adapt her business. Big Fat Smile CEO Jenni Hutchins says child care centres are facing a number of challenges in the attempt to protect the youngest members of our community from COVID-19. “Children aged nought to five can’t be vaccinated, so our job is to do everything we can to keep them safe,”: Ms Hutchins said. “Hardly any children aged five to 12 have been vaccinated because it’s so early, so it’s a challenge for us because the likelihood of transmission between children is so much higher. “There’s a level of dismissiveness in the community about Omicron, but we lifted the seal on restrictions when Delta was still circulating, so they’re both out there. “We don’t want children to get either, because we don’t know the effects of it, particularly the long-term effects.” Ms Hutchins said keeping kids safe was not the only challenge centres faced. High rates of infection have meant staff are often unavailable due to isolation requirements; early learning and child care centres have strict requirements for the ratio of adults to children. If those ratios cannot be met, the centre cannot open. READ MORE: In addition, many families have been struck with COVID-19, and have to isolate at hoe with their children. Under the current funding model for childcare, the government covers some of the cost of care, with parents paying the remaining gap. The government has said the gap will be waived for families who have to isolate, which is good news for families, but leaves centres short. “We’re probably down 26 per cent on a usual year in vacation care at the moment and down 16 per cent compared to this time last year,” Ms Hutchins said. “We’re allowed to waive the gap fee for little people who have to isolate, but it does create a financial challenge for us, because we lose 40 per cent of our income. “But if we have to close or can’t keep our children safe it has a knock-on effect on so many businesses because they lose their employees, and we know they’re already facing the same challenges we are. It’s just a runaway freight train at the moment.”