WINNIPEG -- All kindergarten to Grade 12 students in schools in Winnipeg and Brandon, Man., will be switching to remote learning starting Wednesday.

The period of mandated remote learning is scheduled to finish on May 30.

Education Minister Cliff Cullen, along with Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief provincial public health officer, made the announcement Sunday during an afternoon news conference.

"Although schools have not been a source of widespread transmission of COVID, the case counts in our schools are rising and with increased transmission of variants of concern in larger urban centres and among younger people our public health officials are recommending additional measures," said Cullen.

For schools in other parts of Manitoba, additional measures will be put in place.

Schools that remain open but experience multiple cases will be moved to remote learning pro-actively.

All extra-curricular activities, including organized sports and off-site activities will be suspended, with the exception of socially distant walks and runs in the community. Singing and the playing of wind instruments indoors won’t be permitted either.

School officials will also be able to require students and staff who are showing symptoms to stay home for ten days and encourage them to get tested.

Minister Cullen noted schools that are in full remote learning will accommodate children of essential workers in kindergarten to Grade 6 if other childcare arrangements are not possible. 

"Our policy here, and in most places, were to have schools open for the most part. These were going to be the last things to close and the first things to open and so what’s changed is the dramatic increase in cases that we’ve seen, the dramatic increase in community transmission and once again the strain on the health care system," said Dr. Roussin.

Limiting the mandated remote learning to Winnipeg and Brandon schools was done to keep as many students in the classroom, according to Roussin.

"Over three-quarters of the cases are in Winnipeg or Brandon, and really that's where that burden is right now. Where we need to interrupt those transmission chains," said Roussin.

Roussin said 20 per cent of overall current COVID-19 cases in the province are in school-aged children. As of May 6, there were 574 cases linked to schools in the prior 14 days. That represents a 25 per cent jump for staff and a 67 per cent increase for students.

Schools in Winnipeg and Brandon accounted for about three-quarters of the 208 schools who reported at least one case of COVID-19 in the past week.

The province said childcare facilities will remain open, including those located in Winnipeg and Brandon. However, children who have been switched to remote learning should not attend those facilities before or after school hours. Those facilities must also follow the additional guidelines announced for schools that haven't switched to remote learning.

Roussin said he is optimistic students can return to the classroom once this period of remote learning has finished citing increased vaccinations and eligibilities.

"We are going to have eligibility to very likely to aged 12 and up by some point in May," Roussin said. "Right now, we need to make this decision, and we'll follow things really closely and certainly, the hope is that we can get the kids back in face-to-face learning this year." 


The Manitoba NDP slammed the province's plan to switch some Manitoba schools to remote learning.

"What we've seen from the government today is shameful, it's outrageous," said NDP leader Wab Kinew. "The government knew that they would be doing this with schools, and yet they waited until Mother's Day to make that announcement."

NDP public affairs critic Malaya Marcelino raised concerns over the lack of new supports for families with essential workers, like manufacturing employees, grocery clerks and home care workers, who must continue to go to work while having kids at home learning.

Another issue raised was the lack of transparency on COVID-19 transmission in schools.

"We need to have access in open and transparent information so that we can also have public confidence in these public health restrictions," said Marcelino.

Liberal leader Dougald Lamont responded to the announcement in a statement saying, "The move to shift to remote learning for Winnipeg and Brandon comes late."

"This should all have happened days ago, and the government should be prepared with a major new round of emergency funding for families, schools, and businesses to prevent a wave of business closures," reads the statement.