Will this birthday tradition be banned? (Photo: Getty Images)Celebrating birthdays at school just got a little less fun for kids in Australia. New guidelines issued Tuesday by the country's National Health and Medical Research Council say that children can no longer blow out the candles on cakes at school because doing so spreads too many germs.
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"We introduced new national standards to lift the quality of child care across Australia because we believe parents deserve peace of mind when they drop their child off they are receiving quality care to a high standard," Australia's Minister for Early Childhood and Child Care, Kate Elliss, explained in a statement. "All services across the country will be assessed and rated against new National Quality Standard which will ensure that services are meeting basic requirements including children's health, safety and wellbeing."
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But parents aren't feeling much peace of mind. Instead, they're outraged, saying that the new rules are so nit-picky that they take all the fun out of being a kid.
"I think that we are protecting our kids too much," one parent told the Telegraph newspaper in Sydney, Australia. "Let the kids be kids, get some germs, build up the immunity, and get on with it. How about the politicians focus on getting other things right."
"This rubbish has got to stop," said another, who works as a scrub nurse in New South Wales. "Kids have been playing in sand pits for years. Kids have been playing in dirt for years. Kids have also been playing with communal toys for years … Kids need to be subjected to these things to build a healthy immune system. These so called experts who seem to know more about health than doctors, won't be happy until kids are kept in a sterile environment, which will then put the child at risk every time it leaves the house."
Australian medical professionals agree that the new guidelines go a bit too far.
"If somebody sneezes on a cake, I probably don't want to eat it either," Australian Medical Association President Steve Hambleton told the Telegraph. "But if you're blowing out candles, how many organisms are transferred to a communal cake, for goodness sake?"
The guide, called "Staying Healthy: Preventing infectious diseases in early childhood education and care services," does offer a solution. "To prevent the spread of germs when the child blows out the candles, parents should either: provide a separate cupcake (with a candle if they wish) for the birthday child and enough cupcakes for all the other children [or] provide a separate cupcake (with a candle if they wish) for the birthday child and a large cake that can be cut and shared."
But daycare providers think the suggestions are not going to be satisfying to little kids.
"It will be very sad for the children," Kristy Strong, a daycare supervisor, told the Telegraph. "It will take away the excitement of it all."
Some of the new regulations are specific to Australia -- "Australian bats may harbour a lyssavirus that is very similar to the rabies virus," the guide warns before offering advice on what to do if you get bitten -- but other rules don't make much sense no matter where you live. According to the guide, children are now expected to wash their hands before digging in the sandbox or playing outside, as well as after. And while all toys, door handles, floors, and even cushion covers must be washed daily, kids with head lice don't have to be sent home from school.
"Just wash your hands before you eat," Hambleton said. "If you live in a plastic bubble, you're going to get infections that you can't handle."
The new regulations also allow day care centers to disregard doctors' notes about when a child is well enough to return to school, instead requiring them to comply with government-determined "exclusion periods" for various illnesses.
"Our nanny-state government just can't help itself," quipped Mark of Hobart, Australia, to the Daily Mail. "We've just dodged Internet filtering and new hurt feelings laws so onto the next target -- the kiddies' birthday parties."
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