The start of March Break has been delayed for Ontario students until April 12, in an effort to avoid a spike of COVID-19 cases when students return.

Ontario’s Education Minister Stephen Lecce made the announcement this afternoon, saying it was made in consultation with Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, public health officials and local Medical Officers of Health across the province.

“Many students have been learning remotely since the start of 2021. It is critical we follow public health advice to protect schools and avoid a repeat of the concerning spike in youth-related cases over the winter break, when students and staff were out of schools for a prolonged period of time,” said Lecce.

“We are taking this precaution based on advice from health experts, including the province's Science Table and the Chief Medical Officer of Health, to help protect against the emerging COVID-19 variants of concern.”

The North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit confirmed the first case of a COVID-19 variant on February 4, the first variant found in Northern Ontario, after international travel.

To help combat the spread of any variants, all of Ontario’s positive COVID-19 tests will now be screened for known variants. The province has found over 100 confirmed cases of the UK variant and a case of the South African variant strain in their testing.

The UK variant has been confirmed to be the cause of an outbreak at a long-term care home in Barrie. Within 48 hours of the first positive test result in a staff member, there were 55 other cases within the facility. There have been 229 cases out of 230 residents and staff since, as well 66 deaths.

“With respect to travel, our government's position on this is unchanged,” Lecce notes.

“Ontarians should refrain from travelling, particularly given the increase in new variants that pose a direct risk to our country. Please stay at home as much as possible and continue following the direction of public health officials so that we can keep schools open and protect our seniors, frontline health workers and all families.”

Last year’s March Break was the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in northwestern Ontario. Students left their classrooms in early March, but wouldn’t return to them for the remainder of the school year.

As of February 16, all Ontario students will be able to resume in-person learning.

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