TORONTO -- Schools in Toronto, York Region and Peel Region will stay closed until Feb. 16 while the remaining classrooms in southern Ontario will reopen for in-person learning on Monday, the Ontario government has announced.

Speaking on Wednesday afternoon, Education Minister Stephen Lecce said that in-person learning for most of southern Ontario will resume on Feb. 8, while schools in three of the province’s biggest COVID-19 hot spots will remain closed for an additional week and will open after the Family Day long weekend.

Before-and-after-school child-care programs will also resume in those regions on the same day.

Lecce made the announcement alongside the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams.

"While this has not been easy on Ontario parents, students and our education staff, I want to be clear safety is what has and will drive our decisions every step of the way," Lecce said.

"We were the first to close schools in the country last March and today we are the only province that decided to cautiously and gradually reopen our schools."

The education minister added the decision had the "unanimous support of all local medical officers of health," but that he would not hesitate to take further action if it's recommended by Williams.

"Our aim is to make sure schools remain safe," he said. "We have followed the expert and medical advice of the chief medical officer of health and local medical officers of health. If they give us an indication that there is a risk to schools, to communities, or to your child and to our staff, what I mean is, I will not hesitate to act. Because, for us, this is a very clear message we're sending to the population, we're reopening because it is safe"

Williams added that once schools have reopened, it will be up to local public health units whether an individual facility will have to close due to potential transmission of COVID-19.

All students began their studies in January with online learning as part of an extended winter break. Schools in northern Ontario reopened on Jan. 11 while 11 other public health units in southern Ontario reopened in the past few weeks.

Parents in in the province’s COVID-19 hot spots—Toronto, York Region, Hamilton, Peel Region and Windsor-Essex—were previously told students would not return to the classroom until Feb. 10 at the earliest.

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Health says that Toronto reported 444 new COVID-19 infections, while 199 more cases found in Peel Region and 110 were reported in York Region.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said during a news conference on Wednesday that he’s in full support of the Ontario government’s approach to reopening schools across the province.

“I am in full support of the approach taken by Premier Ford and Minister Lecce, including the approach taken with respect to City of Toronto schools in particular,” Tory told reporters.

“In-class learning is very important. Kids need the social development they get from going to school, while being surrounded by teachers and their peers. We all agree, as well, that the reopening of schools must happen safely.”

Earlier this week the government announced that additional federal funding will be used to enhance safety measures in schools, including province-wide asymptomatic COVID-19 testing and stricter masking protocols for younger students.

Asymptomatic testing at schools in the fall found 200 new cases of COVID-19, the province said, with under two per cent of all student tests coming back positive.

Officials have not yet indicated if March Break will be impacted, saying only that the ministry would be "providing parents with a sufficient notice on that decision.”

Between September 2020 and the December holiday break, provincial officials confirmed more than 7,200 COVID-19 infections in schools and more than 1,200 in licenced child-care facilities.