Ontario to keep some child care centres open to help health care workers

TORONTO — Some child care centres will stay open for the kids of health-care workers and first responders, in a move the Ontario government said will help workers focus on responding to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced the new policy less than a week after all child care centres in the province were ordered to close when the government declared a state of emergency.

He said centres could provide up to 50,000 spaces by the end of the week but will be required to follow existing health and safety requirements when it comes to COVID-19.

The centres will also be required to limit the number of children they care for at one time, he added.

"This is an important step to enable our frontline workers to focus exclusively on saving lives and preventing the spread of COVID-19," Lecce said, noting the service will be free.

The decision comes as Ontario Public Health reported nearly 50 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday, bringing the total in the province to 425.

The provincial total includes eight resolved cases and six deaths. Three new deaths were announced on Sunday — a Toronto man in his 70s, a woman from York region who was also in her 70s and a man from the Haliburton area in his 80s.

No information is listed for the majority of the new cases, but two women in their 20s are among the newest positive tests.

On Saturday night, the province announced it was issuing a new order under its emergency declaration giving hospitals the ability to cancel and postpone services to redeploy resources and staff quickly.

The government said the order will specifically give hospitals the power to redeploy staff to different locations in a facility including to COVID-19 assessment centres.

It will also allow a hospital to defer or cancel staff vacations or leaves.

"While normal protocols are important in routine times, these extraordinary steps will ensure our health sector workers are there, where and when they are needed, to care for Ontarians and support our extensive efforts to contain this virus," Solicitor General Sylvia Jones said in a statement. 

The Ontario Hospital Association urged people to take social distancing and self-isolation measures seriously, especially in light of many people returning from March break vacations

"The COVID-19 pandemic is the biggest public health threat in Ontario's history," OHA President Anthony Dale said. "The decisions all of us make today to prevent its spread and protect the most vulnerable will be the legacy we leave to future generations."

Meanwhile, real estate associations for Ontario and the Greater Toronto Area are calling on realtors to stop holding open houses during the pandemic.

"If a client has an urgent need to sell or buy a home during the COVID-19 crisis, there are other real estate tools that realtors can use for showing a property including virtual tours," said Sean Morrison, president of the Ontario Real Estate Association, in a statement.

Morrison said he understands that realtors will still receive requests from clients to hold open houses anyway, but he's advising them to encourage homeowners to reconsider.

The Toronto Regional Real Estate Board echoed those concerns and said it will not enforce their rule which says that a listed home must be available for open houses and inspections.

"We're at a critical phase with this pandemic and we all have to do our part to be successful in confronting this challenge," board president Michael Collins said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2020.

Shawn Jeffords and Salmaan Farooqui, The Canadian Press