Nurseries across the region say they are only expecting around a third of children to return this week, prompting fears that some providers could be forced to close down permanently without further Government support.
Nearly three in four (71%) nursery leaders expect to operate at a loss over the next three months amid reduced demand and increased costs associated with operating safely, a survey suggests.
The snapshot poll, from the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), comes as nurseries across England have begun reopening their doors to more children as lockdown measures have been eased.
Nurseries are planning for 35% of their usual numbers of children coming back straight away, according to the poll of 528 nursery owners and managers which closed on Monday morning.
Nurseries have implemented a range of measures - including risk assessments, keeping children and staff to small groups inside settings and infection control measures - to welcome children back safely. The vast majority of providers said they were still expecting to operate ata loss until September.
The poll found 4% said they were likely to close permanently in the comingmonths without support.
Purnima Tanuku, chief executive of the NDNA, said it was a "tragedy" that some settings have not been able to reopen and others are looking at potential closure in the near future.
"The Government needs to act now and bring in a recovery and transformation fund to help providers weather this challenging period. Local authorities have revealed they share our concerns for the sustainability of early years as well. This type of fund is essential to support early years' providers to be sustainable as demand for places slowly recovers. Many nurseries and childcare providers have stayed open through this crisis to support critical workers keep our country going. If we want the economy to recover we need a sustainable and viable childcare sector to ensure parents can work and children can access high quality early education."
"We have been working very closely with the sector as we begin the wider opening of settings, and have provided significant financial and business support to protect them during these unprecedented times. It's testament to the great impact nurseries, preschools and childminders have on children's education and the reassurance they offer families that so many parents are confident in returning their child to childcare this week."