As provincial governments across the country bring in sweeping new restrictions to slow the Omicron surge, the federal government is broadening pandemic supports.
Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said that the new Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit, which gives $300 a week to those who cannot work due to a COVID-19 lockdown, will be expanded to include employees who have lost 50 per cent of their wages and whose workplace has had capacity limits by 50 per cent or more.
The Local Lockdown Program will also expand wage and rent subsidies to businesses who have had their capacity cut by 50 per cent or more and have had their current month’s revenue drop by 25 per cent.
Businesses that have lost 75 per cent or more of their current month’s revenue will receive a 75 per cent subsidy, while those who have lost between 25 and 74 per cent of their revenue will receive an equivalent subsidy. Businesses do not need to show a historical 12-month revenue decline, just one for the current month.
The expansion of benefits will cost the feds $4 billion. The eligibility period of these expanded benefits will run from Dec. 19, 2021, to Feb. 12, 2022.
More than 80 per cent of Canadians have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said, urging individuals to get their booster shot when they are eligible. About five million people have received their booster dose.
Trudeau appeared at the press conference virtually, revealing that three of his staff members and and members of his security detail had recently tested positive for COVID-19, and issued a warning for Canadians. The prime minister said he had been taking rapid tests but had so far tested negative.
“People don’t want to be in this Omicron situation… (but) we know it’s not going to just go away if we don’t all do our part,” he said.
“We need to prevent Omicron from overwhelming our healthcare systems. We need to keep contacts low.”
Chief medical officer Dr. Theresa Tam said that average daily case counts have more than doubled over the past week, growing from 5,000 to more than 11,000. Omicron, she added, is dominating in some parts of Canada.
Tam said that even if Omicron turns out to be less severe than prior COVID-19 variants, it is likely to hit already fatigued health-care facilities.
She said that Canadians should keep gatherings small, with just family and close friends in attendance, and keep plans flexible as local conditions change. High-quality masks, ventilation and vaccination are necessary layers of protection, Tam said.
“These are not the holidays we wished for,” she acknowledged, but said that the availability of vaccines and treatments made the current situation more positive than the ones Canadians had been in the earlier stages of the pandemic.
While Canadian vaccination rates are high, Tam said that there are seven million eligible individuals who have not received their first dose of a COVID-19 shot.