TORONTO — Ontario is rolling out a new $10,000 grant for small businesses shuttered by the latest round of public health measures, the province announced Friday.

Eligible businesses include gyms, museums and galleries, tour services and before- and after-school programs, while companies that had to slash their capacity in half, such as retailers, do not qualify. 

“Our government understands that public health measures needed to blunt the spread of the Omicron variant are impacting the lives and livelihoods of small businesses, workers and families across Ontario,” Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said in a written statement announcing the grant.

Businesses that qualified for the Ontario Small Business Support Grant and that have been forced to close will be pre-screened for the new grant, and need not apply.

Qualifying businesses can expect to receive their payment in February, the province said.

But NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said that timeline is too slow.

“This $10,000 amount that’s coming a month from now, it’s really, I think, a slap in the face to all the small businesses that are desperate right now,” she said during a press conference Friday.

Horwath said the government should have designed a funding plan that took businesses’ needs into account, rather than what she described as “a little bit of money shoved out the door.”

Dan Kelly, president and CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said on Twitter that while the grant is “good news,” it will be “entirely insufficient” if the closures last longer than the scheduled three weeks.

“The grant won’t help those affected by deep capacity restrictions (like retail), suppliers to locked down industries, those losing customers because of fear of Omicron or those who are affected by ‘work from home’ orders (like dry cleaners),” he wrote. “More comprehensive help is needed.”

The province is also introducing a hydro relief program for businesses and residential customers, providing the off-peak rate 24 hours a day for 21 days, starting on Jan. 18.

It comes as COVID-19 continues to spread at unprecedented rates.

Ontario reported 2,472 patients in hospital with COVID-19, including 338 people in intensive care. 

That’s up from 2,279 patients hospitalized and 319 in ICUs one day ago, and surpasses the previous peak of 2,360 people in hospital on April 20.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said 232 of the ICU patients are not fully vaccinated or have an unknown vaccination status, and 106 are fully vaccinated. 

Forty-two new deaths were reported, which a spokeswoman for Elliott said occurred over the past 10 days and were added today due to a data clean-up.

The province also reported 11,899 new COVID-19 cases, but Public Health Ontario has said the actual case count is likely higher due to the current testing policy.

Provincial data shows 81.7 per cent of Ontarians aged five and older have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 87.5 per cent have at least one dose.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 7, 2022.

The Canadian Press

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