Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce announced an expansion of free child care being offered to emergency workers on Saturday as the province logged another 3,443 new cases of COVID-19 and 40 more deaths.

The announcement comes after thousands of students began to attend school remotely this week to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Earlier this week, the province announced that students in southern Ontario would not return to class on Monday as planned but would instead continue with remote learning until at least Jan. 25.

The decision was driven by soaring case numbers, which have remained well over 3,000 per day for almost a week, as well as for two days the previous week.

“We recognize as this elementary school closure is extended that more people, more front-line workers will need support,” Lecce said during a news conference.

“That’s why today we’re announcing an extension of the emergency and free child care we’re providing to our front-line workers,” he added.

“The first phase of it existed for this week, but obviously, given the extension [of online learning] to the 25th, we think it’s reasonable to extend that free service for another two weeks.”

Canada Post, RCMP staff among those added to list

Lecce revealed the expanded list at a rare weekend news conference on Saturday morning.

Workers now eligible for childcare include Canada Post employees, staff with the RCMP or Canada Border Services, court services staff, power workers and those providing services to unhoused people.

Lecce said child care will be available for education staff who are required to attend school in-person to teach students who cannot learn remotely. 

Ontario residents working in victims services, providing frontline services with children’s aid societies or intervenor services for the deaf and blind are also among those on the list.

A nurse tends to a patient suspected of having COVID-19 in the intensive care unit at North York General Hospital in Toronto in May. There are now 400 COVID-19 patients in ICUs across the province, according to the latest data from Critical Care Services Ontario. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The announcement comes as the province is reporting more than 3,000 new cases of COVID-19 for the sixth straight day.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said Ontario’s network of laboratories completed a record 72,900 tests in the last 24 hours.

Locally, there are 1,070 new cases in Toronto, 548 in Peel Region, 303 in York Region, 282 in Windsor-Essex County and 179 in Ottawa.

Several other regions in Ontario reported COVID-19 cases numbers in the triple digits on Saturday. They include:

Durham Region: 166. Niagara: 134. Waterloo 116.

Meanwhile, there are now 400 COVID-19 patients in intensive care units (ICUs) across the province, according to the latest data from Critical Care Services Ontario.

The province says 244 of the patients in ICUs are breathing with the help of ventilators.

The 40 deaths reported Saturday include 26 people who were long-term care home residents.

Ontario’s death toll now stands at 4,922.

The Health Ministry reported a record 4,249 cases on Friday and 3,519 cases on Thursday. A total of 71,481 tests were reported Friday, which was also a record for the province.

As of Saturday, the province said 2,915 more coronavirus cases have been resolved, bringing the total number of recovered patients since the pandemic began up to 178,224.

Over 100,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine administered

Elliott said more than 100,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine have been administered to the province’s most vulnerable and those who care for them.

“As we continue to vaccinate thousands of Ontarians every day, we urge everyone to follow public health advice to protect yourself and your community,” she said on Saturday.

Over 100,000 doses of the <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/COVID19?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#COVID19</a> vaccine have been administered to our most vulnerable and those who care for them. As we continue to vaccinate thousands of Ontarians every day, we urge everyone to follow public health advice to protect yourself and your community. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/TeamVaccine?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#TeamVaccine</a> <a href=”https://t.co/LPdpQaWD8L”>pic.twitter.com/LPdpQaWD8L</a>

&mdash;@celliottability



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