In the first briefing since Christmas Eve, provincial officials announced Wednesday that schools would be implementing a phased restart over the coming weeks amid the rise in COVID-19 cases.

Most students will return to school on January 10th, while teachers and staff will return next week. The initial return date of January 3rd and 4th will remain the same for children with special needs and children of essential workers.

“This delayed start will allow Public Health and Education time to assess the impact of the Omicron variant in our communities and on our education system. It will also provide teachers, staff, and administrators time to prepare for students safely returning to class with enhanced safety measures,” said Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside.

“Our primary goal is to continue the work to keep students learning safely, in-person for the remainder of this school year.”

Whiteside said further safety measures would be implemented in addition to the existing guidelines.

“Many of these measures will look familiar as they were a part of our original safety plans.”

School gatherings, including assemblies, and staff meetings will need to be conducted virtually. Sports tournaments will also be put on hold for the time being.

Vistors will be limited to those that “directly benefit school learning and well-being.”

Schools will be required to reinforce daily health checks, ensuring staff and students stay home if they’re sick.

Strategies will be required to reduce crowds during class transition times, such as staggering start times.

“As we know, the pandemic is changing, but the education system is nimble and strong. Our efforts are truly focused on minimizing disruption and absenteeism,” said Whiteside.

“Taking a few extra days now, we are setting our schools up for the best possible start.”

Education Minister Jennifer Whiteside was added to the COVID-19 briefing Wednesday morning, joining Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix.