Ontario education minister Stephen Lecce announced Wednesday that the province will reopen schools in five hot spot regions where the COVID-19 virus hit the hardest recently.
Students attending schools in Toronto, Peel, and York regions will be able to return to in-classroom learning on Feb. 16.
All remaining schools in Southern Ontario will start reopening for in-person learning on Feb. 8.
“I want to be clear that safety is, what has, and what will drive our decisions every step of the way. We will not put your child and your family at risk,” Lecce said.
“With the full support of the Chief Medical Officer of health and with the unanimous support of all local medical officers of health, Ontario is ready to reopen our schools because it is safe.”
The province had earlier introduced safety measures that include province-wide access to targeted asymptomatic testing for students and staff, using a combination of lab-processed PCR and rapid antigen tests; mandatory masking for students in grades 1-3, including outdoors where physical distancing cannot be maintained; enhanced screening of secondary students and staff; new guidance discouraging students from congregating before and after school; and temporary certification of eligible teacher candidates who are set to graduate in 2021 to stabilize staffing levels, following high levels of absenteeism.
The reopening of these schools will add to the 520,000 students across Ontario that have already returned to classroom lessons.
Quebec Takes Steps Toward Reopening
Meanwhile, Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced on Tuesday that universities and junior colleges across Quebec can gradually reopen next week, though he didn’t provide a timeline.
Legault’s announcement came after his province reported a steady decline in new COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.
As of Feb. 2, health officials reported the seven-day rolling average of new COVID infections in Quebec dropped to 1,212—the 25th consecutive day it has declined. Hospitalizations dropped by 34 to 1,110, and 178 people were in intensive care, a drop of five.
But all regions in the province will remain in the red zone with the exception of six that will be designated as orange zones: Gaspésie and Îles-de-la-Madeleine, Bas-Saint-Laurent, Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean, Abitibi-Témiscamingue, Northern Quebec, and North Coast.
These less populated regions which account for about 10 percent of the province’s population, will still be subjected to curfew but will begin at 9.30 p.m. while the rest of the regions in the red zone will continue to have the curfew starting at 8 p.m.
However, non-essential stores, personal care salons, and museums across Quebec will be allowed to reopen next week, Legault said.
Specifically, in the orange zones, restaurant dining rooms, gyms, and indoor sports facilities will be allowed to reopen on Feb. 8. Cinemas and theatres can begin operating again on Feb. 26, the premier added, though with restrictions.
For instance, in restaurants located in orange zones, only two adults and their children will be allowed at each table, and reservations will be mandatory to facilitate contact tracing and to prevent people from outside the region from visiting them, said Legault.
As for red zones, residents will be able to resume their outdoor activities with up to three people from other households. In orange zones, it will be up to eight people maximum.
But for both red and orange zones in Quebec, household gatherings are still banned.
With files from The Canadian Press