This past month marked the start of the third and final step of our Reopening Ontario plan, and it was great to see so many businesses and other organizations welcome residents back indoors. Health and infectious disease experts remain diligent, analyzing the latest data to relax restrictions and exit Step 3. A study by Public Health Ontario revealed that of the more than 403,000 individuals contacting the virus between last December and July 10, only 0.4% of them were fully vaccinated, and less than 4% had received one dose. They are now referring to this as a pandemic of the unvaccinated. The data clearly shows that a high rate of fully vaccinated people is required to protect us from the surging Delta variant, causing a fourth wave in jurisdictions around the world and south of the border. Our medical experts have determined that we must fully vaccinate at least 75 percent of Ontarians 12 years of age and older before we can exit Step 3 restrictions. When the weather cools in the fall, they believe that we must reach 90% fully vaccinated to ensure we do not overwhelm our health care system. I urge everyone who has not been fully vaccinated to do so as soon as possible.
After considerable progress over the last couple of months, the speed at which our residents are obtaining their first and second doses has slipped significantly, extending the time required to meet the required 75% milestone. As a result, the Eastern Ontario Health Unit has adjusted its vaccination rollout to make it easier and faster. Their clinics, as well as participating pharmacies, are now open to walk-in residents. More information is available at www.eohu.ca. In addition, they ask anyone with appointments later in August or September to rebook one of the open appointments now available in the next few weeks. To book or advance your appointment for your first or second shot, please go to www.Ontario.ca/bookvaccine or call 1-888-999-6488 if you have a red and white OHIP card or need assistance. The process automatically cancels your previous time when you accept a new appointment.
The provincial government continues to announce new and enhanced programs to support the recovery of our great province from the pandemic. While we progress through our Reopen Ontario efforts, many organizations cannot function fully because the pandemic has limited their funding opportunities. This month, OMAFA Minister Lisa Thompson announced that agricultural societies would be eligible for up to $5,000, while up to $1,500 will be available for horticultural societies. This total $5 million investment will help offset revenue loss during 2020. The government remains cognizant of the financial challenges facing small businesses to ensure their employees stay healthy and safe. Labour Minister Monte McNaughton revealed that $10.5 million is being invested in providing up to 60,000 small businesses with access to free health and safety training.
In 2018, approximately 700,000 households and businesses in Ontario did not have access to adequate high-speed internet. Our government committed $4 billion in its spring budget to provide a minimum internet speed of 50/10 Mbps to all Ontarians by 2025, and this week we took the next steps in our ambitious plan. First, we announced $14.7 million in ICON (Improving Connectivity for Ontario) funding to serve 44 communities encompassing 17,000 homes and businesses. Locally, the communities of Akwesasne First Nation, Crysler, Maxville, and regions of North Stormont will receive this state-of-the-art service. On Thursday, we followed up with a joint federal/provincial program of $1.2 billion to connect over 280,000 underserved homes. Over the next nine months, we will be focusing our new reverse auction procurement system on serving the remaining 300,000 households and businesses. Adequate internet connection speeds are essential to Ontario’s health and prosperity and is why we have made the largest financial commitment of any government in Canada, including the federal government.
Stay safe, and enjoy the rest of our beautiful summer.
MPP for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry