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Coronavirus: All publicly funded schools in Ontario closing for 2 weeks due to COVID-19

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The Ontario government has ordered all publicly funded schools to be shut down for two weeks after March Break due to concerns about coronavirus.

“Since we first learned of COVID-19 as an emerging public health issue, Ontario has been diligently monitoring the developing situation to protect the health and well-being of all Ontarians,” a joint statement from Premier Doug Ford, Health Minister Christine Elliott and Education Minister Stephen Lecce said Thursday afternoon.

“Based on advice from Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health and the experts at the COVID-19 Command Table, the minister of education has issued a ministerial order to close all publicly funded schools in Ontario for two weeks following March break in response to the emergence in Ontario of COVID-19.”

READ MORE: Ontario confirms 17 new COVID-19 cases, including baby boy

Officials called the move “necessary to keep people safe.”

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“We recognize the significant impact this decision will have on families, students, schools, as well as the broader community,” the statement said.

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Elementary and secondary schools will still be open on Friday. The order closing those schools until April 5 takes effect as of Saturday.

READ MORE: Live updates: Coronavirus in Canada

In an update later provided by Lecce, he said the timing of the closure coincides with typical increased family travel over the March break period.

He said a decision on reopening schools will be made toward the end of the two-week closure period after receiving advice from public health officials.

Lecce, who called the continuity of learning an “important consideration,” said plans about schooling and instruction time are being finalized. He said an announcement will be made soon.

“It is an extraordinary time. We’re asking for a sense of compassion from all parties,” Lecce said.

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During a news conference at Queen’s Park Thursday afternoon, Williams encouraged families to refrain from closed spaces with large numbers of people over the closure period. He said trips outdoors in non-crowded spaces are still OK.

The announcement comes hours after the province announced the largest single-day spike in confirmed cases of COVID-19. As of Thursday morning, there were 59 confirmed cases.

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More to come.