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TORONTO – Ontario businesses were hit on Wednesday by another round of closures and capacity restrictions linked to the pandemic, but details of financial support remained scarce as the measures took effect.

Restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and other indoor venues were forced to close as retail stores and personal care services were limited to half of their capacity in a government attempt to rule the Omicron virus variant spread that has caused a skyrocketing of infections and hospitalizations.

It’s a familiar routine now almost two years after the start of the pandemic, especially in Ontario where restrictions have been reintroduced repeatedly during viral outbreaks. But the lack of immediate support this time around is “inciting rage” for struggling business owners, said the president of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business.

“It is appalling that the provincial government has not announced immediate relief,” Dan Kelly, president of the organization, said Wednesday.

“Companies are locked in today with hints of programs that haven’t even been designed yet.”

The Progressive Conservative government announced $ 7.5 billion for a six-month interest-free period to allow businesses to pay provincial taxes.

He also promised a rebate on energy costs of up to 100% for businesses subject to shutdowns and 50% for those with limited capacity, but the list of eligible businesses will only be available on a date not. clarified later this month. .

A spokeswoman for Finance Minister Peter Bethlenfalvy said on Monday the province “is also exploring other options” for supporting businesses, including grants for those affected by the latest shutdown measures.

“This is Minister Bethlenfalvy’s number one goal,” Emily Hogeveens said in an emailed statement. “More details will be released in the near future.”

Kelly said he would like the province to reinstate a program offering business grants of $ 10,000 and $ 20,000. He said he would also like the program to be expanded to include other companies that were not eligible in the first round but suffered significant financial losses due to the closures.

This program came under scrutiny in a recent report by the province’s Auditor General, which found that hundreds of millions of dollars were distributed to ineligible businesses while others in need of support. help were excluded, due to flaws in the hasty design of the program.

Kelly said speed should take priority over perfection, as many companies lack the financial and creative leeway to continue operating two years after the pandemic.

“Frankly, time is running out,” he said. “Our choices are to give money back to business owners, recognizing that a few can get money who don’t qualify, or leaving parts of Ontario’s business community to fail permanently. “

The province said the latest restrictions would last at least 21 days, to be reassessed based on public health indicators at the time.

Premier Doug Ford announced the latest measures – which also include closing schools across the province and stopping all scheduled surgeries considered non-urgent – earlier this week, citing fears that hospitals would soon be inundated with patients infected with the virus with few staff available to care for them.

Ontario has reported 2,081 people hospitalized with COVID-19 and 288 intensive care patients, up from 1,290 people hospitalized the day before, although Tuesday’s figures may have been underestimated due to a delay in reporting after the bank holiday weekend.

Health Minister Christine Elliott said on Wednesday 202 intensive care patients were either unvaccinated or had unknown vaccination status and 86 people were fully vaccinated.

As of Wednesday, 11,582 new cases of COVID-19 were reported, but Public Health Ontario noted that the actual number is likely higher due to policy changes making testing less accessible.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on January 5, 2022.

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