Last month, experts predicted that the new Omicron variant would rapidly increase cases and overwhelm our health care system if we did not take measures. As a result, our Government instituted new restrictions to blunt or slow the spread of this virus. Hospitalizations quickly rose four-fold to over 4,100 patients in the province earlier this week. With key public health care indicators starting to show signs of improvement, the Ontario government, in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, released details of its plan to cautiously and gradually ease public health measures. Effective January 31, indoor public settings will be increased to 50 percent for many indoor public settings, including restaurants, bars, and other food or drink establishments without dance facilities, gyms, cinemas, museums, and religious services. Spectator areas for sporting events, concert venues, and theatres will be allowed to operate at 50 percent seated capacity or 500 people, whichever is less. Enhanced proof of vaccination and other requirements will continue to apply in existing settings. Complete details, including the next steps planned for February 21 and March 14, are available at www.Ontario.ca/.
Students were welcomed back this week to in-person learning, with the Government pulling together resources to ensure schools are safe as possible. Among our measures, we have sent more than 3.9 million rapid antigen tests (RAT) to school boards to help protect students and staff. Unfortunately, these tests are being rationed to our highest priority groups since only six million of our January 64 million commitment has been received from the Federal Government. We have also completed the delivery of 9.1 million non-fitted N95 masks for staff and over four million three-ply masks for students. My website provides more information: https://jimmcdonellmpp.ca/ under the January 17th latest news.
The Government is reaching out to hear from the public as Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy prepares the 2022 Ontario Budget. I invite anyone with ideas for our budget to attend a virtual consultation meeting on Wednesday, January 26, at 10:15 a.m. Please register by emailing [email protected] by January 22, and include your complete contact information and topic of presentation.
With many businesses required to close or reduce capacity due to the latest public health measures, our Government launched several assistance programs. The Ontario Business Costs Rebate Program will provide eligible businesses with a rebate payment of up to 100 percent of property tax and energy costs they incurred while subject to these restrictions. Applications for the program opened on January 18, 2022, and details are available at https://www.app.grants.gov.on.ca/obcrp/#/. It also established a new COVID-19 Small Business Relief Grant to give businesses subject to closure a $10,000 grant. In February, the money will flow to eligible companies, with applications opening soon. The Government is also improving cash flows by making up to $7.5 billion available through a six-month interest- and penalty-free period for Ontario businesses to make payments for most provincially administered taxes. This penalty and interest-free period started on January 1, 2022, to support businesses now and provide the flexibility they will need for long-term planning.
Many people have had to stay home during this partial lockdown, requiring more electricity and heating fuels. Therefore, effective Tuesday, January 18, the Government lowered electricity rates for families, small businesses, and farms to the off-peak rate of 8.2 cents per kilowatt-hour for 21 days. The reduced rate will be automatic and not require any action from customers. Remember to follow public health guidelines, get vaccinated if you have not done so, and stay safe.
MPP for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry