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Regular return to classrooms unlikely in B.C. until September: premier

Citynews 1130 Vancouver

Last Updated Apr 29, 2020 at 9:46 pm PDT


But expect a gradual increase in the number of students in classrooms

The province plans to reopen the economy next week, Horgan says

B.C. is extending its state of emergency for a third time, until May 12

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — Most B.C. students are unlikely to return to school as they know it before September, according to Premier John Horgan.

He also announced Wednesday that plans to reopen the economy will be unveiled next week, while extending the provincial state of emergency for a third time, until May 12, due to COVID-19.

“We don’t anticipate a regular return to education as we know it until into September,” Horgan said. “But we will do a gradual increase in the number of students in classrooms, and we’re working with all the stakeholders, whether they be support staff teachers, administrators, trustees, to make that happen, always focusing on what is in the best interest of British Columbians, as you would expect us to do, and as we are committed to doing this whole host of other issues.”

On Tuesday, Education Minister Rob Fleming said the province is currently focused on safely teaching the 3,600 children of frontline and essential service workers who are back in schools, most at the primary level. Fleming said schools are also supporting students with special needs who require in-person assistance from teachers and children of parents who need respite.

The next step, he added, is to expand to children of Tier 2 essential service workers.

Regarding reopening the economy, Horgan said B.C. has taken a gradual approach so far, and, unlike other provinces, resisted a call for a full lockdown.

“The approach for British Columbia was to focus on, ‘How could we keep sectors operating safely,’ rather than shutting them down and until such time as we could open them up again,” he added.

“Many other provinces have announced plans, and we will be certainly doing that, as well, next week,” Horgan said.

More modelling numbers will be brought forward then, he added, and will help make the final determinations as to when to restart the B.C. economy.

“So I’m not announcing today that the economy is going to go back to 60-70-80 per cent or normal. I’m announcing today that we’re very close to that.”

The premier also said the only way to open up the economy is if consumers are confident their health is being protected, and that the government is working with WorkSafe BC to ensure businesses affected by COVID-19 resume safely.

“This week, Quebec announced that they were going to reopen their construction sector in the middle of May. We never shut down our construction sector and that was a calculated choice that we made based on the work of WorkSafe and the public health office to put in place guidelines for the safe operation of construction sites,” he added.

“So although we haven’t had 100 per cent participation within the construction sector, many activities have continued as before, in a safe manner. We expect that to continue, as well.”

Horgan said plans and procedures are in place for safe operation of the tree-planting season, and to protect temporary foreign workers and help the farming sector. He also credited restaurants for getting plans in place plans to operate safely.

“It’s not just going to be the flick of the switch, as I said last week, and I’m saying again today, but the consuming public has to be comfortable and confident when they go into a restaurant that they are going to be safe. Similarly, workers in that sector need that confidence, as well.”

Horgan also said the province is working with the Canadian government to protect a safe food supply after a fourth federally inspected poultry plant in the Lower Mainland reported a virus outbreak, some with employees working at multiple sites and possibly while sick.

He said mandatory paid sick leave is a critical issue because support programs in place now won’t last forever and that it’s not acceptable for employees to show up for work while ill.

“I believe that we need to address the issue of sick pay going forward,” Horgan added.

“Currently, there is the emergency benefit that’s available to British Columbia that are affected by COVID, starting on Friday. There’s the CERB that’s in place. There’s a whole host of programs for the pandemic period. So I believe that if you’re not well, you should not go to work and there are programs that you can access.”

Still, the provincial government has a role to develop protections for workers, he said.

“We need to do it with industry, we need to do it with WorkSafe. That’s one option that we’ve explored and I think that might be the best one. But we have a number of options on the table and we’ll have more to say in the days and weeks ahead.”

The provincial state of emergency is being extended two weeks under the Emergency Program Act to keep people safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I know everyone was looking forward to resuming normal activities and spending more time with loved ones who have been separated over the past number of weeks, and we want to see that, as well,” Horgan said. “But it’s going to take resolute passion by all of us to ensure that we continue to make progress, rather than give up the progress that has been so hard fought for over the past month and a half.”