Ontario shutdown could create child care challenges to start 2021 in London, Ont. – London

London, Ont., area parents and guardians with kids requiring child care will have to make alternate arrangements to start the New Year following the provincial coronavirus shutdown announcement.

On Monday, Premier Doug Ford announced a province-wide shutdown will begin on Dec. 26 and last for four weeks in southern areas of the province and two weeks in northern areas.

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As part of the shutdown, the first week of school starting Jan. 4 will be online-only for elementary students, but during that week, child-care centres won’t be allowed to serve school-aged children and before- and after-school programs will be cancelled.

Locally, the Thames Valley District School Board said on Tuesday that in addition to before- and after-school programs being cancelled, all child-care programs that operate out of its schools will be closed from Jan. 4-8, even those for kids younger than school-age.

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The City of London says its community centres will be closed for the entirety of the shutdown, including day camps.

A spokesperson with London Bridge Child Care Centres, however, told Global News no other interruptions are expected for them outside of the provincially mandated measures for Jan. 4 to 8.

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To provide some assistance, the province has said it will be implementing “a targeted emergency child care program for school-aged children, at no cost to eligible parents” though few details are currently available. Eligible workers are listed in Appendix B (the last two pages) of a PDF summarizing the shutdown plans.

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The province also says operators of before- and after-school programs won’t be allowed to charge fees or otherwise penalize parents during that time, for example by having kids lose their spot.

Associate medical officer of health for the Middlesex-London Health Unit Dr. Alex Summers says it is regrettable but understandable that a return to in-person learning would be delayed.

While he noted that in the Middlesex-London region there has been “limited evidence of transmission within our schools over the course of the fall,” there has been a recent increase in the number of cases among students “who are at school while infectious.”

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“As we see those numbers go up, the potential for transmission in the schools and in those school and learning environments also increases. As the case load increases, the need to limit the opportunities for these groups to gather in something like a school is going to be necessary,” he explained.

“Obviously, taking kids out of school is not the best outcome by any sense of the word. However, I think it speaks to the fact that as the global burden of COVID increases in our communities, that changes have to happen even in places where we have not seen transmission to date.”

Click to play video 'Coronavirus: Ontario Premier Doug Ford announces Hydro relief rates, expanded support for parents'

Coronavirus: Ontario Premier Doug Ford announces Hydro relief rates, expanded support for parents

Coronavirus: Ontario Premier Doug Ford announces Hydro relief rates, expanded support for parents

TVDSB Director of Education Mark Fisher says the board will be providing more information to families in the coming days.

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“As always, we will support our students and families to ensure a smooth transition to remote learning and ensure that no student is disadvantaged as a result of the pandemic,” Fisher said, noting that the TVDSB has distributed “more than 15,000 computing devices and 1,100 cellular-enabled devices” to students so far this year.

The board says for students enrolled in in-person learning, teachers will connect with students and caregivers “starting to week of Monday, Jan. 4 to provide more information on the shift to remote learning.” There are no changes for students already enrolled in fully remote learning.

As mentioned, all child care programs and before- and after-school programs operated out of TVDSB schools will be closed from Jan. 4 to 8.

Parents/guardians should confirm details with their individual child care operator, the board says.

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The City of London, meanwhile, says all of its community centres will be closed for indoor drop-in and indoor registered programs, including day camps.

“Participants will be contacted by phone or email if their program has been affected and will receive full refunds for any fee-based programs,” the city says in a release.

The city also says Citi Plaza, where some of its services are located, will be closed to the public starting noon Dec. 24. As a result, in regards to child care fee subsidies, the city asks people to contact children services by emailing [email protected] or by calling 519-661-4834.

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