Manitoba's education minister announced that all classes will be suspended in the province over concerns regarding COVID-19.
On Friday, Education Minister Kelvin Goertzen, joined by Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, said that kindergarten to Grade 12 classes will be closed for a period of three weeks, effective March 23.
This closure comes after the province announced the first of three COVID-19 cases in Manitoba, has been laboratory-confirmed.
Schools will remain closed for the week before and after the regularly-scheduled spring break, which set for March 30 to April 3. The province said it will be evaluating whether schools will remain closed after the three weeks.
"We believe that our schools are safe, however, the experiences in other provinces and other parts of the world tells us that proactive measures lessen the spread of COVID-19 and lessens the negative impact on individuals," said Goertzen.
"Through this suspension, we are acting in an abundance of caution to lessen the effects of COVID-19 on Manitoba and Manitobans as a whole."
Teachers are being asked to remain on the job for the week before and after spring break, to prepare lessons for students to do at home if possible, Goertzen said.
He asked other school staff to spend this time preparing the schools for the students return by cleaning and performing maintenance.
Goertzen said the province is in communication with school divisions.
"We're giving notice to families to prepare, we're giving ourselves greater ability to have front-line workers, for example, prepare child care if need be," said Pallister.
"We're giving greater opportunities for the system to adapt and to function better for the people of Manitoba, by making the decision we made – a Manitoba decision, agreed upon by us, that we think will put Manitoba in a better position going forward."
Pallister said at this point daycares are not being shut down, though he said the province will be discussing how this will affect daycares.
The Premier said the decision to close the schools was not made to instill fear, but rather to instill confidence.
"Actions like this shows us that we are not helpless against this virus," said Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba's chief provincial health officer, at the news conference.
"All Manitobans have a role to play in limiting the impact of this virus on our communities."
Roussin encouraged Manitobans to continue to practice social distancing strategies, such as cancelling events with more than 250 people attending.
In the time before schools are closed on March 23, Roussin asked schools to continue to encourage frequent hand washing, avoid large group activities and to increase distances between desks.
He said going forward, the province will look at ways to decrease class sizes, such as moving classes online.
Manitoba's Health Minister Cameron Friesen said in addition to the four screening clinics that have been set up in Winnipeg, the province will also be increasing the number of Health Links call lines from 35 to 104.
People who are showing cold or flu-like symptoms and have a relevant travel history should contact Health Links at 204-788-8200 or toll free at 1-888-315-9257 for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19-related health concerns.
"We are confident that these measures, and others will have the effect in slowing the spread of COVID-19, and flattening the curve of positive cases in this province" Friesen said.