Premier John Horgan announced Tuesday that kindergarten to Grade 12 classes are suspended in the province until further notice due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Education Minister Rob Fleming said some schools will have limited childcare openings for emergency care for children of essential workers, such as doctors and nurses.
Schools are looking at plans for alternative learning, such as online classes. Horgan said daycares will remain open at this time but families should be ready for changes.
Fleming said all students on track to move to the next grade will continue and every student eligible to graduate from Grade 12. All students will receive a final mark. Graduation assessments for Grade 10 and 11 students are postponed.
“We have to take action today to protect our students and staff in order to keep our schools safe,” Fleming said.
Education staff are working to ensure all students receive needed assessments. The province is also working with postsecondary institutions. Most colleges and universities in the province have transitioned to online learning.
Horgan said the timing for returning to in-person classes will be determined down the road.
Elementary and secondary public school students in B.C. are currently in the early days of a two-week spring break.
Horgan also said the province will be changing the Employment Standards Act to provide assistance to workers hit by layoffs caused by the fight against COVID-19.
“We will do everything in our power to make sure your salaries are maintained,” Horgan said.
“Our government is also strongly advocating for extending EI to people who wouldn’t typically qualify,” B.C. Finance Minister Carole James said in a news conference Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Premier John Horgan is promising a provincial plan in the next day or two to help companies and workers deal with COVID-19.
He says the province is waiting for the final details of the federal government’s plan before it releases its approach.
But Horgan says there will be financial support for businesses and changes to the Employment Standards Act to prevent workers from being laid off if they are required to stay at home to self-isolate.
“We want to make sure that no one loses their job by doing the right thing,” he told a news conference in Victoria.
“Today we are talking about the plan and the path forward. The details of that really have to wait until we see what the federal government has done so that we can complement that work.”
Horgan also pressed the federal government to ensure it changes employment insurance regulations to help workers.
“This is a crisis situation, there’s no making that sound any better,” he added.
The number of businesses affected by the pandemic continued to mount on Tuesday.
LNG Canada is cutting its workforce in half over the next several days on the construction of a new plant in Kitimat, B.C., to help local communities deal with COVID-19.
The company says most of the cuts are being made by reducing the number of workers flying in on rotation but, if necessary, staff could be cut to levels required only to maintain site security and environmental controls.
LNG Canada is a consortium of five global energy companies, including PetroChina and South Korea’s KOGAS, building a $40-billion liquefied natural gas production and export facility.
The region where the plant is located in northwestern B.C. has not had any confirmed cases of COVID-19.
In a statement on its website, LNG Canada says it is taking the step in an abundance of caution to protect the communities of Kitimat, Terrace and surrounding First Nations.
It says travel by staff and contractors to other countries, including China, South Korea and Italy, has been restricted for the past month.
LNG Canada is building an export facility in Kitimat capable of processing liquefied natural gas from B.C.’s northeast and shipping it to customers in Asia.
“We assure you that together we are taking prudent measures to help reduce the spread of the virus,” the company says on its website.
British Columbia reported 103 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Monday, including four deaths.
One of the most popular ski resorts in North America is also shutting down in the face of COVID-19 restrictions against large groups and close contact.
Vail Resorts, the U.S. owner of several ski hills including Whistler-Blackcomb, says the B.C. resort and all its properties are closing for the season, effective immediately.
The announcement came just days after Whistler announced a one-week shutdown to assess the situation.
More than half a dozen other ski resorts across B.C. have also announced closures.
And Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland says the Liberal government is “urgently reviewing” whether to stay the course on allowing U.S. citizens to keep coming into Canada, noting “nothing is off the table.”
She says the Canada-U.S. border is a “lifeline” to Canada and that includes how we get many important supplies, including groceries and medicines.
Freeland is also urging all U.S. citizens who do not need to be in Canada to stay away.
She says now is not the time for residents of either country to cross the border for non-essential reasons.
Health Minister Patty Hajdu says Canadians who live near the U.S. border and are used to crossing over to pick up packages or buy cigarettes, alcohol or groceries should refrain from doing so.
With files from The Canadian Press