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Toronto to provide free, 24/7 childcare for essential and critical service workers

Last Updated Mar 22, 2020 at 9:59 pm EDT

The City of Toronto says it will provide free childcare 24 hours a day, seven days a week for children of essential and critical care workers as they serve on the front lines of the battle against coronavirus.

The announcement comes after the Province of Ontario said Sunday that it will allow some childcare centres in the province to stay open to care for the children of health workers and first responders.

The centres in Toronto will be funded by the province. They are expected to open as soon as possible and will be available for children from infant to age 12.

The centres will be spread across Toronto and will be in existing city-run childcare facilities. They will be operated by City of Toronto licenced childcare workers.

An online registration system will be established to sign up for the centres and will be released soon.

“Given social distancing is not feasible when caring for young children, additional measures will be taken, in consultation with Toronto Public Health and the City’s Occupational Health and Safety program, to maintain a healthy and safe environment,” the city said in a statement. “Precautions will include daily screening of children and families prior to admission, increased cleaning, and reduced group sizes.”

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.

“Essential” and “critical care workers” have been defined by the province and the city says a list of those services will be available soon to clarify who is eligible to apply.

The province says centres will be required to follow existing health and safety requirements and have plans in place should any staff, children or parents be exposed to COVID-19.