(Reuters) - The Canadian province of Ontario will keep schools closed for in-person learning until the new school year starts in September, even as COVID-19 case counts flatten and the province considers an earlier reopening than initially planned, Premier Doug Ford announced on Wednesday.
Ontario, Canada's most populous province, took schools back to online learning in April as the variant-driven third wave of COVID-19 threatened to overwhelm hospital and healthcare systems.
The decision to keep schools closed "was a hard choice to make, but I will not - and I repeat, I will not - take unnecessary risks with our children right now," Ford said, citing the increased danger posed by variants to younger people.
But Ford also said that the province could begin its planned three-step reopening plan sooner, if the chief medical officer gave his blessing.
The province announced in May that it would start slowly reopening restaurants and retail during the week of June 14, if certain vaccination targets were met.
Facing questions of whether he was choosing the economy over schools, Ford said not enough teachers and students were vaccinated to make reopening schools safe.
Separately on Wednesday, provincial medical officials said that second doses of vaccines should be offered sooner than originally planned, as supply rises and variant spread continues.
Canada delayed second doses for up to 16 weeks as it pushed to get first shots into people's arms. Now almost 60% of adults have received a first dose, while less than 6% are fully vaccinated.
(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver and Steve Scherer in Ottawa; Editing by Nick Macfie)