TORONTO -- As schools remain shuttered and online learning continues across much of southern Ontario, the provincial government is further expanding its list of eligible workers who qualify for free emergency child-care.

The government announced on Monday that the following workers will qualify for the program on as of Wednesday:

  • Individuals working in fuel distribution and oil refineries
  • Education staff who are required to report to work in person while their children continue with remote learning
  • Grocery store workers
  • Pharmacy workers
  • Truck drivers
  • Farmers and those who support food or agricultural product supply chains
  • Individuals involved in the collecting, transporting, storing, processing, disposing or recycling of any type of waste
  • Individuals working in the manufacturing and distribution of disinfectants and sanitizers

Speaking on Monday, Minister of Education Stephen Lecce said these individuals are “making a difference in our economy and keeping food on our tables and the lights on.”

“Today, we are expanding and enhancing access to emergency child-care that’s for those folks who are front-line workers and have to continue to work,” he told CP24. “We want to make sure that they have access to free dependable and safe child-care in Ontario.”

Schools in seven public health units across southern Ontario reopened for in-person classes on Monday, but the rest remain closed amid surging COVID-19 case counts. Classes resumed in the northern part of the province on Jan. 11.

While the province’s chief medical officer of health keeps a close eye on the COVID-19 situation in public health regions where schools remain closed, officials have previously said that five hot spot regions – Windsor-Essex, Peel, York, Toronto, and Hamilton – will not see in-person learning resume until at least Feb. 10.

The targeted emergency child-care program is intended to support essential workers and their families with child-care options at no cost where students continue to learn remotely.

The list of essential workers qualifying for the program was last expanded on Jan. 9, including postal workers, RCMP officers, homeless shelter staff and others.

At the time, Lecce said 2,200 families had enrolled in the program thus far. The program’s capacity is roughly 20,000, he said.