VICTORIA -- The B.C. government has suspended all schools in the province until further notice to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, according to an announcement made by Premier John Horgan Tuesday.

While the majority of provincial public schools are already on spring break, any remaining schools that have not yet closed are being directed to do so now.

“We’re used to schools being safe places,” said Education Minister Rob Fleming. “But as the global pandemic, COVID-19, is evolving quickly, and it's having a growing impact in British Columbia, we have to take action today to protect our students and staff.” 

Fleming said students would still receive a final mark and that Grade 12 students would graduate, regardless how long the closure persists.

As the closure could continue for some time, however, Fleming said that the province may transition to online teaching. Currently, the province is working with more than 50 online learning providers, and the entire B.C. curriculum is available online.

Daycare and childcare will continue to operate across the province. Horgan noted that it was crucial for health care workers and other employees in critical services to have childcare at this time, based on recommendations by B.C. health authorities.

However, the premier noted that the situation is rapidly evolving and the status of childcare is subject to change.

The premier promised that the government will ensure that British Columbians’ jobs will be protected amidst the COVID-19 outbreak, and that amendments will come to the Employers Standards Act.

Finance Minister Carole James noted, however, that the provincial government will likely face a deficit in the future.

“It is likely we will have a deficit, there is no question about it,” she said.

James added that it was too early to say in detail how COVID-19 would effect the economy.

For now, James the province will focus on three priorities, including supporting services, working with the federal government to bring in immediate relief for people and businesses, and building B.C.’s plan for economic recovery.

James added that the B.C. government is advocating to extend employment insurance to those who would not typically qualify – like those who are self-employed, part-time, or contractors – during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The president of the Greater Victoria Teachers' Association says an announcement is expected later today from the BC Teachers' Federation.