Ontario is preparing for the possibility that schools could remain closed for the remainder of the term, while Premier Doug Ford says he “won’t hesitate” to shut down everything in the province should medical experts advise him.
As the number of COVID-19 cases continues to grow, Ontario rolled out a “learn at home” online portal on Friday that provides resources for parents. The resources offer interactive activities for elementary students, and a focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) courses for high-school students.
Education Minister Stephen Lecce said the first phase of the government’s new learning plan would help “mitigate learning loss.” Schools across the province have been ordered to close for two weeks beyond this week’s March Break, until at least April 5. British Columbia and Alberta have closed schools indefinitely.
Mr. Lecce said if school closures extend beyond the two weeks, more resources will be rolled out that would include a greater emphasis on online learning.
“We will have a plan should Ontario’s chief medical health officer expand that order [to close schools] for an additional two weeks or the entire remainder of the semester,” Mr. Lecce told reporters at a press conference alongside Mr. Ford.
Mr. Ford added that parents should be “prepared for pretty well everything.”
Ontario reported an additional 50 cases of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the total number in the province to 308.
When asked about the possibility of a province-wide lockdown to combat the spread of the virus, as seen in California, Mr. Ford said he’s relying on Ontario’s chief medical officer of health and other health experts for advice.
“Everything is on the table. I won’t hesitate to shut anything or everything down,” he said.
Mr. Ford said parents should be practising social distancing with their children, including cancelling play dates, avoiding playgrounds and using drive-through restaurants or ordering delivery. He criticized video game retailer EB Games for keeping stores open, where a number of people in downtown Toronto were seen waiting in line on Friday.
“Guys, the young people, please, please do not get in line. Practice social distancing. It’s unacceptable. This is exactly what causes the spread,” he said.
The Premier said he and his cabinet will also be meeting on Friday to discuss ways to provide childcare for frontline health care workers and first responders.
Ontario announced on Thursday that the province would suspend eviction notices and renewals for driver’s licences, licence plate stickers and health cards.
Meanwhile, Toronto Mayor John Tory expanded and extended a grace period for city fees such as property taxes and water and garbage bills, giving all residents and business an extra 60 days to pay.
The mayor had said earlier this week that there would be a 30-day extension for city payments by businesses, including taxes, effective that day. On Friday he lengthened the grace period and broadened it to include residents. The 60-day period remains effective Monday.
“Residents and businesses who find themselves facing financial hardship due to COVID-19 can defer their next property tax instalment without penalty,” Mr. Tory, who is in isolation after a recent trip, said in a statement issued by his office. “Property tax accounts will be adjusted as necessary to reflect these relief measures.”
- With a report from Oliver Moore in Toronto