This past week, our Eastern Ontario Health Unit region returned to the Orange-Restrict level that our communities lived under last fall. This framework provides a welcome and much-deserved opportunity for restaurants and non-essential businesses to reopen and welcome customers back into their premises with some restrictions. Indoor weddings, funerals and religious services are also allowed to reopen with a 30 percent capacity limit. We have come a long way in reducing this virus’s current spread, but experts are warning us about the new and more contagious variants of concern. They are very clear; the only way to avoid its spread is to follow diligently the basic guidelines of wearing a mask and social distancing. If we let our guard down, we will see more cases, hospitalizations, deaths, and further lockdowns. Vaccines are arriving, and we are administering them as soon as we receive them from the Federal Government. The next couple of months are critical in our battle against this virus, so please hang on and follow our medical experts’ guidelines to avoid a third wave. More information on the current guidelines can be found at https://eohu.ca/en/covid/covid-19-response-framework.
This week we surpassed a significant milestone by administering over 500,000 total doses of COVID-19 vaccines. Despite ongoing vaccine delays and reduced shipments, our government continues to make progress in vaccinating our most vulnerable, including residents in long-term care, high-risk retirement, and First Nations elder care homes. At this time, I am pleased to report that residents at all long-term care homes across the province have been given an opportunity to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. As we receive more vaccines from the federal government, we will ensure that every Ontarian who wishes to receive a vaccine can get one. Locally, Dr. Paul Roumeliotis is working hard to finalize plans for our region, concentrating on completing the Phase 1 priority group that includes residents, staff, and essential caregivers in LTC and retirement homes, frontline healthcare workers, and seniors over 80 years old. Deliveries are expected to pick up significantly over the next few weeks, allowing them to complete Phase 1 members and move into Phase 2 in March. Stay tuned to local media, and review the health unit’s website at www.eohu.ca for details and registration.
This week the Ontario Legislature convened for its scheduled 13-week sitting. The debate quickly surfaced around Ontario’s paid sick leave agreement with the Federal Government and the opposition’s demand for a separate, duplicate provincial program. Last July, the provinces signed a $19 billion agreement with the Federal Government, which included $1.1 billion to cover the cost of 10 paid sick days through the Canada Recovery Sickness Benefit. No other province has introduced a separate provincial program. With less than 30 percent of the overall program accessed by workers nationwide, there is a clear lack of awareness about the federal program. Observers suggest that the opposition’s continued calls for a separate Ontario plan have contributed to the confusion and resulted in the Premier asking for them to help promote the program. The Premier reiterated that Ontario taxpayers have already paid into the federal plan. Asking them to pay for a second parallel system would be foolhardy, inefficient, and disrespectful of their hard-earned contributions. Our Minister of Labour, Monte McNaughton, has worked with his federal counterpart to address some early issues. Payments are now being received in as little as three days, which is very responsive, considering most employees receive payments on monthly or bi-weekly terms. There is no reason for the province to start from scratch and duplicate an existing federal program that our residents have helped to pay for.
As always, remember to stay home, stay safe and save lives. Your health and that of your loved ones may depend on it.
MPP for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry