We are almost two weeks into a period of lighter Stage 2 pandemic measures, and COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU occupancy continue their steady decline across the province. Our reopening plan has protected our health facilities as we look to further easing just over a week away on February 21, as outlined at https://covid-19.ontario.ca/public-health-measures. Enhanced proof of vaccination and other requirements will continue to apply in existing settings.
Progress for our long-term care homes continues as residents are allowed four designated caregivers, with a maximum of two visiting at any one time. Social day trips have resumed for residents with at least three doses, and starting February 21, double vaccinated visitors five years old and older will be able to visit again. In addition, all residents, regardless of vaccination status, will be able to leave on day trips, and those with three doses can undertake overnight visits. Day programs that include entertainers and external personal care services will also return.
To further support the province’s cautious easing of public health measures, the Government is expanding access to free rapid testing kits to the general public. As a result of the province’s direct procurement, Ontario will be distributing five million rapid tests each week for eight weeks through pharmacy and grocery locations across the province, and 500,000 through community partners in vulnerable communities. In total, the province is making available 44 million rapid tests to the public for free over the coming weeks. A list of participating retailers, including the 18 current locations, can be found at Ontario.ca/rapidtest.
Small businesses required to close under the modified Step Two of the Roadmap to Reopen can now apply for the Ontario COVID-19 Small Business Relief Grant (OSBRG). The portal opened Wednesday, February 9. The Grant provides a one-time payment of $10,000 and is the final installment of the up to $60,000 available to eligible small businesses impacted by Government-mandated closures. The Government continues to accept applications for the Ontario Business Costs Rebate Program at: https://www.app.grants.gov.on.ca/obcrp/#/.
As we continue to look for new ways to safeguard Ontarians from COVID-19, the pandemic has shown that many of our workers do not have the same level of health care support as others. The Government wants to address the lack of benefits coverage for retail, short-term contractors and workers (GIG), and hospitality workers, who often have to decide between addressing health concerns or paying for food and shelter. We have established an advisory panel that will recommend a system to provide more health, dental, and vision care, even if they change jobs, which will be a first in Canada. We are creating a province that won’t leave anyone behind, and this step will play a big part.
Ontario’s Energy Minister Todd Smith has asked the Ontario Energy Board (OEB) to provide options to implement a new ultra-low overnight Time-of-Use electricity price plan. The province continues to provide Ontario families with more ways to save money and take more control of their energy bills. The new ultra-low overnight rate could help shift workers and residential consumers who use more electricity at night save money. It will also support electric vehicle (EV) adoption by reducing overnight EV charging costs when province-wide electricity demand is lower. The Government has also launched a public consultation on the proposal.
Finally, this week our Government announced it is extending the requirement to renew health cards until September 30, 2022. Ontarians will continue to be able to use their expired health card, including a red and white health card, to access insured health care services. Health care providers can also continue to accept expired health cards following the previous February 28, 2022 deadline. To make it easier and more convenient for Ontarians to renew health cards online, ServiceOntario is taking steps to enable online health card renewal using Ontario Photo Cards in the coming months.
Remember to follow public health guidelines, get vaccinated if you have not done so, and stay safe.
MPP for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry