For the first time since May, there’s a COVID-19 outbreak at Guelph General Hospital. The news comes just a day after the hospital announced that they’re limiting visitors for patients starting Thursday, and more than seven months after the last outbreak. At the same time, there was some good news on Wednesday as the Government of Ontario announced that there’s help for small businesses fighting to stay open in the wake of Omicron.
“Our ongoing priority is to ensure the safety of patients and staff who have worked diligently to limitthe spread of COVID-19 during this challenging time,” said Hospital president and CEO Marianne Walker in a statement. “We are greatly concerned about the rapid surge of COVID-19 cases in the community and ask everyone do their part to reduce community spread.”
According to a media release, there are two patients and one staff member in the 4 East unit who have tested positive for COVID. The unit has been closed to visitors, cleaning of high-touch and high-traffic areas has increased, and COVID testing is underway for all staff members and patients in the unit. This is the fifth time there’s been an outbreak at Guelph General Hospital, and the third time this year with 4 East the source of each outbreak.
These three cases were among the 82 new cases in the Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph region on Wednesday. With 55 recoveries, the number of active cases in Guelph only went up slightly to 560, with 273 of those cases in Guelph alone. The 7-day moving rate of confirmed cases is now 160.6 per 100,000 and the test positivity rate is 7 per cent.
There was, however, some good news on Wednesday as the Government of Ontario finally announced some relief for businesses. New capacity limits were placed on all kinds of businesses across the province on Sunday, and in a joint statement released Tuesday both the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) and Restaurants Canada asked Provincial governments for immediate help.
“Even before Omicron fears, nearly two-thirds of small firms across Canada have not seen sales return to normal levels. And of this group, nearly a quarter report their business may fail within the next six months,” the statement said. “Put frankly, tens of thousands of small firms across Canada will receive no support from governments while government restrictions dramatically reduce their ability to serve customers and public health warnings frighten many consumers into staying home.”
Perhaps hearing the urgent call, Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy announced a couple of new measures designed to help businesses through Omicron. First, the Ontario Business Costs Rebate Program will give businesses facing capacity limits of 50 per cent a rebate for payments equivalent of 50 per cent of their property taxes and energy costs between December 19 and mid-January.
If you’re not eligible for that rebate, you business might be able to get a six-month interest- and penalty-free payment relief on most provincially administered taxes for the first six months of 2022. The taxes available to be deferred include the Employer Health Tax, the Tobacco Tax, the Fuel Tax, the Gas Tax, and Beer, Wine & Spirits Taxes. According to the Ontario government, this could provide $7.5 billion for relief for 80,000 Ontario businesses.
“Ontario businesses have already contributed so much to the province’s fight against COVID-19,” said Bethlenfalvy. “We recognize that these necessary capacity limits to reduce the transmission of the virus will impact businesses, and that’s why we are introducing these new supports, which will put money directly into the hands of business and free up their cash flows during this critical time.”
The Federal government also announced some additional assistance for business owners and workers on Wednesday. The Local Lockdown Program has been expanded to include employers subject to capacity restriction limits and will receive subsidies for wages and rent up to 75 per cent based on the degree of revenue loss. The Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit will also be expanded so that workers who might have lost their jobs due to new capacity limits can receive $300 weekly in income support.
“The Omicron variant is a real and serious threat to the health and safety of Canadians and the capacity of our health care system. In light of the public health situation and new restrictions in a number of provinces, we are temporarily expanding eligibility for key support measures offered for workers and businesses,” said Federal Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland in a statement. “The federal government will continue to help Canadians through the pandemic and ensure Canada’s economic recovery leaves no one behind.”