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Thousands sign petition to extend Christmas break for schools in B.C. amid fears of new COVID-19 variant

The petition, now closed, gathered over 35,000 signatures
Vice-principal Joel Nelson gives instructions over a loudspeaker on new physical distancing protocols to stem the transmission of COVID-19 outside Dr. Charles Best secondary on the first day of school, Sept. 10. A petition calling on the B.C. government and Dr. Bonnie Henry to extend the Christmas break by two weeks. - Photograph by STEFAN LABBÉ/TRI-CITY NEWS

UPDATED: A petition calling for a two-week extension of the school Christmas break to stem the spread of COVID-19 in British Columbia has garnered the support of thousands of people. 

The now-closed petition, posted to under the banner “Close all BC schools for 2 weeks,” had collected over 35,337 digital signatures by Sunday evening, Jan. 3. 

Directed at Premier John Horgan, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix, the petition cites still relatively high case numbers and the arrival of a new variant of COVID-19 first isolated in a traveller to B.C. who arrived from the United Kingdom on Dec. 15.

“To be sure that it is safe for students to return,” reads the petition, “we ask that Dr. Bonnie Henry extend the winter break for all BC students and make a new plan on how to safely return to school.” 

It’s important to note that although the U.K. variant can spread faster, there's no indication that it's more deadly than other strains or that the Health Canada-approved vaccines will be less effective at preventing it, noted the provincial health officer and Health Minister Adrian Dix shortly after its arrival was announced Dec. 27.

Of the signatories to the petition, several shared why they were adding their voice for an extended Christmas break.

“I’m signing because I work as an EA in an elementary school where I work full time with a cohort that is not required to wear masks,” wrote a user named Mylene DammelSherrin. “I feel my work environment is unsafe. Masks are required in all other indoor public places!”

Another who signed her name Candace Latham said she supported the petition because since “the mixing at Christmas and New Years there has not been given enough time to see if there are catastrophic rises in cases of COVID.”

And Bev Beaton wrote: “I’m signing because my husband and I work for Vancouver school board. He’s almost 66 I’m 60. We have a lady in our care she’s 64. We are worried about the rise in COVID over the holidays. Please extend Christmas break.”

Some other provinces — notably Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta — have rolled out an extended period of remote learning until students return later this month.

At Henry’s last briefing of 2020 Thursday, she said there was little indication of widespread transmission of the new COVID-19 variant and there were no plans to delay the return to school. 

— With files from the Canadian Press