As COVID-19 cases continue to rise at an alarming rate, the Ontario government, in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health and other health experts, is imposing a Provincewide Shutdown
. Additional restrictions will be put into place and reinforce that Ontarians should stay at home as much as possible to minimize transmission of the virus and prevent hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. The Provincewide Shutdown will go into effect as of Saturday, December 26, 2020, at 12:01 a.m.
The current COVID-19 Response Framework will be paused when the Provincewide Shutdown comes into effect. The impacts of these time-limited measures will be evaluated throughout the 14 days in Northern Ontario and 28 days in Southern Ontario to determine if it is safe to lift any restrictions or if they need to be extended.
The Chief Medical Officer of Health will assess and apply lessons learned thus far to the COVID-19 Response Framework to ensure appropriate and effective measures are in place to protect the health of Ontarians and enable economic recovery after the Provincewide Shutdown ends. This will include an assessment of how a revised approach for the safe reopening of retail may be operationalized, according to the latest available evidence.
Temporary School Closures and
Expansion of the Support for Learners Program
While transmission in schools remains low, all publicly funded and private elementary and secondary schools are to move to teacher-led remote learning when students return from the winter break on January 4, 2021. This action is being taken in support of the Government's broader efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19.
For schools in most Public Health Unit regions, including Toronto, elementary school students are planned to be able to return to in-person learning on January 11, 2021, and secondary school students will continue learning remotely until January 25, 2021, at which point they may resume in-person learning.
During this period, child care centres, authorized recreational and skill building programs and home-based child care services will remain open. From January 4-8, 2021, when elementary students move to remote learning, before and after school programs will be closed and emergency child care for health care and frontline workers will be provided.
As part of the government's efforts to protect the most vulnerable, boards will be required to make provisions for continued in-person support for students with special education needs who cannot be accommodated through remote learning for whom remote learning is challenging.
In January 2021, students aged 13 through Grade 12 will be eligible for funding under an expanded Support for Learners program. Parents or guardians will receive a one-time payment of $200 per eligible student to help offset education expenses. Support will be available for those who attend a public or private school or who are homeschooled.
Application instructions will be available on the Support for Learners web page starting in January 2021. Secondary school student applications will be open from January 11, 2021 to February 8, 2021. The application deadline for Support for Learners for children or youth aged 0 to 12 and for children or youth aged 0 to 21 with special needs is also being extended to February 8, 2021.
This support is part of over $900 million in direct financial support that the Ministry of Education has provided to parents since the start of the pandemic.
The New Ontario Small Business Support Grant
The government recognizes that small businesses impacted by these necessary public health measures will require additional support so they can continue serving their communities and employing people in Ontario once the COVID-19 pandemic is over. That is why the government is announcing the new Ontario Small Business Support Grant, which will provide a minimum of $10,000 and up to $20,000 to eligible small business owners to help navigate this challenging period.
Small businesses required to close or restrict services under the Provincewide Shutdown will be able to apply for this one-time grant. Each small business will be able to use the support in whatever way makes the most sense for their individual business. For example, some businesses will need support paying employee wages or rent, while others will need support maintaining their inventory.
Eligible small businesses include those that:
- Are required to close or significantly restrict services subject to the Provincewide Shutdown effective 12:01 a.m. on December 26, 2020;
- Have less than 100 employees at the enterprise level; and
- Have experienced a minimum of 20 per cent revenue decline in April 2020 compared to April 2019.
Starting at $10,000 for all eligible businesses, the grant will provide businesses with dollar for dollar funding to a maximum of $20,000 to help cover decreased revenue expected as a result of the Provincewide Shutdown. The business must demonstrate they experienced a revenue decline of at least 20 per cent when comparing monthly revenue in April 2019 and April 2020. This time period was selected because it reflects the impact of the public health measures in spring 2020, and as such provides a representation of the possible impact of these latest measures on small businesses.
Essential businesses that are allowed to remain open will not be eligible for this grant. More information about the Ontario Small Business Support Grant is available here. Further details, including how to apply, will be announced in January 2021.
Businesses that are impacted by the Provincewide Shutdown will also be eligible for the property tax and energy cost rebates. In November, the government launched a program to provide rebates to offset fixed costs such as property tax and energy bills for businesses that are required to shut down or significantly restrict services due to provincial public health measures. These Ontario Small Business Support Grant rebates will continue to be available for businesses impacted by the Provincewide Shutdown and earlier restrictions. Business can apply for the rebates here.
Energy Supports for Individuals and Businesses
To support people as they stay home during the Provincewide Shutdown, the government will hold electricity prices to the off-peak rate of 8.5 cents per kilowatt-hour for all time-of-use and tiered customers on a temporary basis starting January 1, 2021. This low rate will be available 24 hours per day, seven days a week for a 28-day period. The off-peak price will automatically be applied to bills of all residential, small business, and farm customers who pay regulated rates.
The province is also making it easier for families and businesses to get the support they need to help pay their energy bills through the COVID-19 Energy Assistance Program (CEAP). Any residential, small business, or registered charity customer with an overdue electricity or natural gas bill will now be eligible to apply. A residential customer can receive up to $750 to help cover their electricity bill and an additional $750 for their natural gas bill. Small businesses can receive up to $1500 for each. Newly eligible customers can apply for these enhanced benefits through their local utility, starting in January 2021.