All of Ontario’s public schools will close from March 14 until April 5 because of the novel coronavirus, the Ontario government announced Thursday.
The closures will include the March break, which is next week at most boards, and the two weeks following.
“We recognize the significant impact this decision will have on families, students, schools, as well as the broader community, but this precaution is necessary to keep people safe,” the government said in a release.
The decision was made based on advice from Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, and the experts at the COVID-19 Command Table.
About two million students in the province will be out of class.
“The health and well-being of Ontarians is our government’s number one priority,” said the government in a statement.
Decisive action is needed, said the statement. The government is seeking to contain the spread of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
Closure of schools is a controversial move, not only because it will leave parents scrambling to find child care, but because it could also reduce the number of health care workers available if they have to stay home to care for their children.
Until Thursday, public health authorities had advised schools to remind children to wash their hands frequently and to cough into their arm or sleeve, but said school closures were not recommended.
In hotspots where COVID-19 has already spread, including Italy and Japan, schools are closed.
In Canada, school closures are up to local and provincial governments if they fear transmission of the illness becomes widespread in their area, Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said earlier this week.
“The measures have to be balanced against what is going on on the ground, and you can’t sort of blanket a whole geographic area without really paying attention to the details on the ground,” Tam said at a briefing Monday, according to The Canadian Press.
The president of Ontario’s largest teachers’ union, Sam Hammond, called the announcement by Education Minister Stephen Lecce a “good call.”
“No doubt a very difficult call for Lecce but a sound decision,” he tweeted. “Finally I can say we agree on an issue!”
Many questions remain, such as whether schools will be able to implement e-learning during the closures and whether the school year will be extended.