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Ontario moves school online, closes indoor dining and gyms as part of sweeping new COVID-19 measures

Source: CBC / Ontario government

Ontario is moving schools online for at least two weeks, temporarily closing indoor dining and gyms and pausing non-urgent medical procedures as it faces record-high case counts that, according to public health officials, threaten to overwhelm the province's health-care system.

Premier Doug Ford announced the changes at a morning news conference Monday. He was joined by his ministers of health and finance, as well Ontario's chief medical officer of health and the CEO of Ontario Health.

The new restrictions are part of a modified version of Step Two of the province's Roadmap to Reopen, which was first implemented earlier last year.

"Our public health experts tell us we could see hundreds of thousands of cases every day," Ford said of the ongoing surge of new COVID-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant.

He said that this could mean hospitals end up thousands of beds short.

"If we don't do everything possible to get this variant under control, the results could be catastrophic. It is a risk I cannot take."

The province announced all publicly funded and private schools will move to remote learning starting Jan. 5 until at least Jan. 17.

Ford said the decision to close schools, a move that would last at least two weeks, was taken because the province couldn't guarantee schools would be fully staffed with so many teachers expected to be off sick.

The move comes after last Thursday's announcement, when Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore said the return to school date would be pushed by two days to Wednesday but would still be in-person. Moore said the province wanted to give schools extra time to provide N95 masks to staff and to deploy 3,000 HEPA filter units.

Though they were asked repeatedly by reporters on Monday, provincial officials did not provide a list of any other specific steps they plan to take in order to ensure a safe return to school on Jan. 17.

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