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From CBC News–Manitoba is shifting to one week of remote learning after the extended holiday break to give school divisions time to address expected staffing shortages and develop plans to reduce the spread of COVID-19, Premier Heather Stefanson announced on Tuesday.

The province had already delayed the return to school after the winter break by a few days, until Jan. 10, to assess the impact of the Omicron coronavirus variant.

Classes will resume next Monday, with most students in remote learning until Jan. 17.

Kindergarten to Grade 6 students who are children of critical service workers, as well as some K-12 students with disabilities, will be able to attend school in person if no alternative care is available.

“We know our children learn best in a classroom setting and it is our goal to ensure they can return to the classroom as quickly as possible,” Stefanson said at a Tuesday afternoon news conference.

Education Minister Cliff Cullen said the province plans to expand the number of rapid testing kits offered to schools, particularly those with high numbers of COVID-19 cases, as the supply increases.

So far, 550,000 rapid tests have been distributed to schools across the province for use when students from kindergarten to Grade 6 are back in class, Cullen said.

Medical-grade masks will also be required for staff when classes resume. Students will be asked to wear well-fitting masks with at least three layers.

Manitoba will distribute at least five million more child and adult medical masks over the next two months as demand increases, Cullen said.

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