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Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson speaks to media prior to the reading of the speech from the throne at the Manitoba legislature in Winnipeg, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021.JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

Manitoba students will be out of class for an additional week while schools prepare more measures to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, the provincial government announced Tuesday.

The province had already pushed back the post-holiday return to Jan. 10 from Jan. 6. Premier Heather Stefanson said Tuesday remote learning will start Jan. 10 and students are to be back in classes one week later. There are exceptions for some children of essential workers and students with special needs who will continue to learn in-person.

“We know that our youth learn best in a classroom setting. It is our goal to ensure they can return to the classroom as quickly as possible,” Stefanson said.

The extra week will allow for more rapid tests and masks to be distributed to schools, as well as give health officials a little more time to gauge the affect of the Omicron variant, Education Minister Cliff Cullen said.

When students do return, schools will be under tighter restrictions – Code Orange instead of Code Yellow on the province’s colour-based system.

The change could mean students spaced further apart or divided into smaller groups and require more staff, the Manitoba School Boards Association said.

“(It) means students spread over more areas, heightened cleaning, heightened disinfecting,” association president Alan Campbell said.

The Manitoba Teachers Society had asked for remote learning to last through to the end of January. The union was not convinced one week will make a big difference in improving safety.

“It’s incumbent on the school divisions to work with the province to ensure that those different things announced today are procured, such as the masks and the rapid tests,” union vice-president Nathan Martindale said.

“So we will be watching very closely over the next week what is happening out there in the schools.”

Manitoba is seeing a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases, including the number of people in hospital.

Health officials announced 1,757 new cases Tuesday, although the true number is likely to be higher because of a backlog in testing. The strain on hospitals has increased in recent weeks as well, prompting more cancellations of surgeries and diagnostic tests.