Coronavirus: Ontario government unveils $17B aid package in response to COVID-19

The Ontario government has unveiled a $17-billion aid package aimed at helping residents, businesses and the health care sector in response to the worsening coronavirus pandemic.

Finance Minister Rod Phillips made the announcement in Ontario’s economic and fiscal update, which provides a one-year outlook on the province’s finances based on current predictions, during an emergency sitting at Queen’s Park Wednesday afternoon.

The package was split into two parts: $7 billion in direct support and $10 billion in business tax and other tax-related deferrals. The increased spending combined with other factors is estimated to result in a provincial deficit of $20.5 billion for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.

Subject to approval in the legislature, the health care sector will receive $3.3 billion in assistance — a majority of that funding is in direct response to COVID-19. Some of the funding was previously announced under a $304-million COVID-19 immediate response plan.

Among the health care-related measures is a $1-billion contingency fund to respond to emerging issues related to fighting the virus, $935 million for hospitals (increasing capacity, adding critical care beds, creating more COVID-19 assessment centres), $124 million for transitional projects (spaces to house less serious hospital patients in order to free up hospital beds), $243 million to provide emergency long-term care beds and virus containment measures at facilities, $80 million for paramedic services, $100 million in funding for public health units and $75 million for personal protective equipment for frontline workers.

Residents and businesses are receiving a total of $3.7 billion in direct support, including targeted initiatives aimed at different populations.

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For parents of children 12 and under, a $336-million program was announced that will see a one-time payment of $200 per child and $250 for a child with special needs as schools across the province remain shutdown. This applies to students in public and private schools. Parents will be able to apply for assistance under a portal that will soon be launched.

Low-income seniors who receive Guaranteed Annual Income System payments will see their benefits double (maximum of $332 a month and up from $166).

Students will see OSAP payments loan payments suspended for six months.

Meanwhile, there were numerous supports aimed at businesses. Corporations see $6 billion in provincial business tax interest and penalty relief for five months. For companies that pay less than $1 million in payroll, the province is spending $355 million for a temporary increase in the Employer Health Tax exemption. There will be a 10 per cent corporate tax credit for regions where there’s lagging employment growth. Also, $1.9 billion is being spent in order to allow for a deferral of WSIB premiums for up to six months.

The Ontario government is also deferring required property tax payments municipalities make to school boards for three months, noting it will represent $1.8 billion in savings. Municipalities were urged to provide deferrals to municipal property taxpayers.

The aid package will now be considered by the Ontario legislature.

More to come.

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Coronavirus closed your gym. Here’s how to stay fit — at a distance

Many fitness centres across Canada have closed their doors in an effort to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Chain gyms, including Goodlife Fitness, Anytime Fitness, Planet Fitness, Hone Fitness, LA Fitness and the YMCA, have all temporarily closed, as have independent fitness studios.

It can be challenging enough to stay motivated to work out at the best of times, let alone at home and possibly alone.

But the shutdowns have prompted both instructors and gymgoers to come up with creative ways to stay fit during the pandemic.

Here are some tips on how to stay on top of your workouts while fitness centres are closed.

Change your mindset

For those who need an incentive to work out at home, Cassie Day, a Toronto-based personal trainer and owner of All Day Fit, said it’s important to think about what exercising does for your health.

Working out is not only beneficial for your physical health, she said, but for improving your mental well-being, too.

“Stress is a silent killer of health,” Day said.

“We live in a chronically stressed-out society –– especially right now. The best thing we can do is manage our stress, and workouts are a great tool for this.”

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State of emergency: How different levels of government can respond to coronavirus

As the novel coronavirus outbreak continues to spread across Canada, some governments have declared a state of emergency.

Premier Doug Ford formally declared a state of emergency for Ontario on Tuesday, and so did municipalities like Red Deer, Leduc and Blood Tribe in Alberta. On the same day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a federal state of emergency was also being considered.

According to Canada’s Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, an emergency is a present or imminent event that requires quick action to protect the health, safety and welfare of people and to limit damage to property or the environment.

A state of emergency is “essentially a symbolic recognition that we’re in an extraordinary period,” said Daniel Henstra, associate professor of political science at the University of Waterloo in Waterloo Ont.

Intended to be temporary, a state of emergency is both to “acknowledge that the government needs to take special measures but also to empower itself to take more executive actions to contain the emergency.”

Any level of government — federal, provincial, territorial or municipal — can call a state of emergency.

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Jewish General Hospital ready to quarantine possible COVID-19 cases in Quebec

As of Monday evening, Quebec has 17 possible cases of COVID-19, according to public health officials.

The province’s only confirmed case, a woman who recently travelled to Iran, is currently in isolation at home.

Many departments have also undergone simulations should possible cases of the virus present itself at the hospital. The exercises let staff work through the complexity of the treatments, identify potential issues and tweak protocols, if need be.

As new information becomes available, officials are making sure to adjust protocols and screening techniques to make sure no one slips through the cracks.

“What we’re trying so much to do with this whole exercise is to prevent transmission of this virus into the population,” said Dr. Miner.

Health officials recommend anyone with cold or flu-like symptoms who have recently travelled to call 8-1-1, where a nurse will assess your condition.

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Ontario government announces 8th COVID-19 case, man with travel history to Egypt

The Ontario government has announced a man in his 80s has tested positive for COVID-19, marking the province’s eighth confirmed case.

According to a statement issued by Ontario health officials Friday night, the man arrived in Toronto on Feb. 20.

On Thursday, the patient went to the emergency room at Scarborough Health Network’s General Hospital and reported he had previously travelled to Egypt.

“As per established infection prevention and control protocols, the patient was cared for at the hospital using all appropriate precautions, including being isolated as he was tested for COVID-19,” the statement said.

Officials said the man was discharged on the same day “feeling well.” The statement said he went into self-isolation as a result.

The news comes hours after the Ontario government announced a man in his 50s, who recently travelled to Iran, tested positive for COVID-19.

On Friday, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott stressed the low risk to the public. However, she also said the province is prepared if the situation escalates.

“We are ready should the situation change from what it is now, but as I’ve indicated, the risk remains very low,” she said.

“But it is important for all Ontarians to know we are prepared. Our hospitals are prepared. We have the protective equipment we need to protect our health officials and we are ready to move immediately should the situation change at any time.”

Friday night’s announcement means there are seven confirmed cases of novel coronavirus in Toronto. The only other case outside of Toronto, within Ontario, was a Western University student in London.

About 60 countries have reported cases of the virus, and the global number of cases has risen to approximately 83,000.

Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health, is scheduled to provide an update about the province’s efforts to combat COVID-19 during a previously announced news conference at Queen’s Park on Monday.

— With files from Gabby Rodrigues and The Canadian Press

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Another COVID-19 case in Toronto, husband of woman who travelled to Iran and tested positive

Ontario health officials say the husband of a woman who had travelled to Iran and recently tested positive for the new coronavirus in Toronto is now infected.

The woman, who is in her 60s, was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Feb. 24. She had presented herself at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre’s emergency department with a travel history to Iran.

Her husband, also in his 60s, now has the virus and is currently in self-isolation, health officials said in a statement.

“We are working alongside Toronto Public Health, who is now and will continue to be in regular contact with this individual during their self-isolation period,” said Dr. David Williams, Ontario’s chief medical officer of health.

This is Toronto’s fifth case of the coronavirus and the sixth case in the province.

Five people in Ontario had previously been diagnosed with COVID-19, including a married couple in Toronto, a Western University student in London, Ont., and another Toronto woman who had all had recently returned from travelling in China. The fifth case is a woman in her 60s who had recently returned from Iran.

Williams, along with Dr. Eileen de Villa, medical officer of health for Toronto, will provide an update on the situation at 3 p.m. Global News will have that livestream here.

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