As we progress through the pandemic, we continue to learn more about the COVID-19 virus, the new variants, and the effectiveness of vaccines. Countries around the world are sharing data, allowing medical experts to put forth the best available plan. Many countries are experiencing a fourth wave, as the Delta variant proves to be much more contagious and affecting younger age groups. Our relatively high vaccination rate is expected to mitigate the impact, but the recent drop in weekly vaccination rates has many concerned that our hospitals will become overwhelmed, requiring further restrictions. As a result, our Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Kieran Moore, recommended a pause at Step 3 of our reopening plan, issuing a directive mandating COVID-19 vaccination policies in high-risk settings, including hospitals, homes, and community care service providers and paramedics. The Ministry of Education announced plans to introduce a vaccination disclosure policy for all publicly funded school board employees and staff in private schools and licensed child care settings for the 2021-22 school year to support the return to school plan. Rapid antigen testing requirements will be required for eligible staff who are not immunized against COVID-19. Vaccination policies will also be implemented in other high-risk settings, including post-secondary institutions, licensed retirement homes, and congregate group homes and day programs for adults with developmental disabilities. Ontario will also begin offering third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to those at highest risk, providing them with an extra layer of protection. All children turning 12 years old before the end of 2021 will now be eligible to receive their first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Our government is working with the Federal government to develop a vaccine document that can be used across the country and international travel. In the meantime, proof of vaccination documents issued by local health units will be utilized in Ontario.
The pandemic has been especially difficult for the most vulnerable sectors of our communities. Since the pandemic’s beginning, the government has focused on improving the front-line response to those most at risk. This week, it announced an additional $307 million to municipalities and indigenous partners to help address homelessness, rent in arrears, affordable housing, and contingency preparations. Locally, the City of Cornwall Social and Housing Services will be receiving $4,251,800 to help those in need in Cornwall and the United Counties of Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry.
The government has always prioritized quality health care for Ontarians, and this includes eye care. To this end, it has been negotiating with the Ontario Association of Optometrists for its members to continue providing services for Ontario seniors. In recognition that previous governments have done little to compensate optometrists, Health Minister Christine Elliott has announced that 2,500 optometrists will share in a one-time payment of $39 million. We continue to work towards a fair contract and have asked the association to continue discussions with the assistance of a mediator.
Our government hosted over 400 virtual delegations this week at the annual Association of Municipalities on Ontario (AMO) conference. I had the privilege of hosting over 20 delegations during the conference and attending several additional sessions. Affordable housing and homelessness were front and centre in most regions, and municipalities appreciated the $307 million of Social Service Relief funding mentioned above. The pandemic also highlighted the importance of high-speed internet for businesses and families for work, education, and entertainment. Our recently released commitment to connecting 100 percent of Ontario’s homes and businesses with a minimum of 50/10 Mbps internet service by 2025 received high praise. The plan is very ambitious and will place Ontario amongst the top connected jurisdictions in the world.
In closing, we need your immediate cooperation to help avoid a fourth wave and further lockdowns. Become fully vaccinated by attending one of our many vaccination centres listed at www.EOHU.ca.
MPP for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry