by MPP Jim McDonell
As the new Omicron variant sweeps across the world, case rates are skyrocketing. In just over three weeks, the active cases in the region served by our Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU) have increased by almost twenty-fold. To slow down the spread of the contagious COVID-19 Omicron variant, the Government has re-introduced measures to protect Ontarians and protect our hospital capacity to save lives. Therefore, on Wednesday, January 5, we returned to a modified Step Two of our Roadmap to Reopen plan. This includes online learning for students until at least January 17. Supports will also be put in place for eligible frontline workers who require emergency child care and special needs students. Other measures include reducing social gatherings to five people indoors, ten outdoors; limiting capacity to 50 percent for retail, personal care services, weddings, funerals, and religious services; closing indoor dining and bars, and indoor sports and recreational fitness facilities, including gyms. Take out, and delivery is still available. For more information, visit covid-19.ontario.ca/public-health-measures.
Case rates across the country and locally bear out predictions from Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health that Omicron transmits between four and eight times faster than the Delta variant. In the Eastern Ontario Health Unit area, we have far exceeded our previous cases record, increasing almost twenty times over the past three weeks. Although Omicron’s hospitalization rate is considerably less than Delta patients, modelling shows that our health care system remains under the threat of being overwhelmed if we fail to curb the current infection rate. Early data shows that high transmissibility results in more short-term hospital admissions but not increased ICU usage. Nonetheless, we expect that one in 100 Ontarians could require the use of oxygen. To ensure hospitals have the resources to provide emergency care, they are pausing all non-essential surgeries and procedures.
Vaccines cannot stop the current Omicron variant, but it effectively reduces the severity of the health impacts and hospitalizations. Four million Ontarians have already received booster shots, and vaccination continues to be our best defence against all COVID-19 variants. Check out the Eastern Ontario Health Unit’s website at www.EOHU.ca, or by calling 1-800-267-7120 for the latest vaccination information, including booster availability and walk-in clinics locations for children and their parents. Book your appointment at www.Ontario.ca/bookvaccine, or through a local pharmacy and primary health practitioner. The EOHU vaccination team continues to add appointments as we add more resources.
A booster’s prime objective is to tamp down symptoms in case of infection. But it is equally important to keep our guard up and follow our best public health practices by avoiding large crowds, wearing a mask, social distancing, staying home if sick, and getting fully vaccinated. If you need non-essential services, please ensure you have an enhanced vaccine certificate with a QR code on a mobile device or a paper copy. You can download your proof of vaccination at https://covid19.ontariohealth.ca, at a Service Ontario centre, or public library, or by calling 1-833-943-3900.
We continue to support businesses facing lower revenues. We have expanded the new Ontario Business Costs Rebate Program, which assists eligible businesses that close or reduce capacity. They will receive property tax and energy rebates equivalent to 50% of their costs. Businesses that close, such as restaurants and gyms, are eligible for 100% of their expenses. Applications will be available later this month. Also, the Government is providing up to $7.5 billion in short-term loans to help businesses alleviate cash flow problems. We are evaluating further measures that will support impacted businesses and workers.
As always, stay safe and get vaccinated if you have not done so. Finally, I want to wish everyone a safe and Happy New Year.
MPP for Stormont-Dundas-South Glengarry