As the province carefully and gradually reopens the economy, the Ontario government is implementing the next phase of its COVID-19 testing strategy to detect and quickly stop the spread of the virus. Testing will now be available to more people in more locations across the province.
Premier Doug Ford and Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, released the next phase of the province’s COVID-19 testing plan, Protecting Ontarians Through Enhanced Testing, which includes three branches of testing:
- Assessment Centre Testing: expanding who gets tested to now include asymptomatic individuals concerned about exposure and continued routine symptomatic testing at assessment centres.
- Targeted Campaigns: detecting and containing cases by expanding asymptomatic surveillance for vulnerable populations, including in long-term care homes and other shared living spaces like shelters and group homes, as well as targeted testing of workplaces in priority sectors which work with priority populations and where it may be difficult to physically distance.
- Outbreak Management: testing to ensure rapid and agile response capacity for outbreak management, including in specific neighbourhoods and regions or at hospitals, institutions and workplaces.
To help enable increased access to routine symptomatic testing, people will no longer need a referral to go to any of the more than 130 assessment centres across Ontario. Information about the assessment centres is now easily accessible on Ontario’s dedicated COVID-19 website.
Ontario will also expand proactive surveillance testing to detect outbreaks and more actively monitor any spread among our most vulnerable populations in hospitals, long-term care homes, group homes, shelters, emergency child care centres, correctional facilities and other shared living spaces. This will include testing of symptomatic and asymptomatic residents and frontline staff in long-term care and retirement homes, as well as those working with priority populations, including first responders, essential workers and other workplaces as the economy gradually reopens.
Moving forward, the province expects that private-sector workplace testing will leverage private and public resources as the government works with private-sector employers to develop the appropriate models for each sector and workplace. Further proactive surveillance testing will also be conducted in rural, remote and Indigenous communities.
In response to a declaration of an outbreak in a specific neighbourhood, region, institution or workplace, the province is also developing agile testing resources, such as mobile testing teams, that can be rapidly deployed to communities across Ontario to enhance existing outbreak management.
Ontario will also soon release a renewed strategy to support public health units with case management and contact tracing, including launching a new exposure notification app that will alert Ontarians when they may have been exposed to COVID-19 and would recommend appropriate actions, such as monitoring for symptoms, self-isolation and/or appropriate next steps on getting tested.
The Ontario government announced that it will continue to support provincial electricity consumers by providing stability and greater customer choice, while helping those struggling to pay their energy bills as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Details of the new programs were provided by Premier Doug Ford, Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health, Greg Rickford, Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, and Bill Walker, Associate Minister of Energy.
- $9 million for the COVID-19 Energy Assistance Program (CEAP) to support consumers struggling to pay their energy bills during the pandemic. CEAP will provide one-time payments to consumers to help pay down any electricity bill debt incurred over the COVID‑19 period. Applications will be available through local utilities in the upcoming months;
- $8 million for the COVID-19 Energy Assistance Program for Small Business (CEAP-SB) to provide support to businesses struggling with bill payments as a result of the outbreak; and
- An extension of the Ontario Energy Board’s winter disconnection ban until July 31, 2020 to ensure no one is disconnected from their natural gas or electricity service during these uncertain times.
In addition, the government recently announced that it will continue the suspension of time-of-use (TOU) electricity rates and, starting on June 1, 2020, customers will be billed based on a new fixed COVID-19 Recovery Rate of 12.8 cents per kilowatt hour.
Starting June 1, 2020, the new COVID-19 Recovery Rate comes into effect for electricity customers who pay TOU rates. This fixed rate will apply to TOU customer bills 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing stability and certainty for consumers as the government restarts the economy and supports individuals and families who continue to spend more time at home.
The COVID-19 Recovery Rate will be in place until October 31, 2020, followed by a new customer choice initiative. Starting November 1, 2020, customers will be able to choose a plan that best suits their household and lifestyle with the option of either TOU electricity rates or tiered pricing, which will provide a set rate for electricity up to a certain level of consumption.
The government will continue to subsidize electricity bills by 31.8 per cent through the Ontario Electricity Rebate. The government is providing approximately $5.6 billion in 2020-21 as part of its existing electricity cost relief programs, to help ensure more affordable electricity bills for eligible residential, farm and small business consumers.
The Ontario government is taking steps to help ensure that as the economy gradually and safely reopens workers will have jobs to return to and businesses will be protected from incurring unsustainable termination costs. The government announced that it has enacted a new regulatory amendment that will put non-unionized employees on Infectious Disease Emergency Leave during the COVID-19 outbreak any time their hours of work are temporarily reduced by their employer due to COVID-19. This will ensure businesses aren’t forced to terminate employees after their ESA temporary layoff periods have expired.
Terminations triggered when temporary layoffs exceed the permitted length under the Employment Standards Act can result in costly payouts which, for many businesses, could be the difference between survival and closure. Under the new regulatory change to the Employment Standards Act, non-unionized employees who have had their hours reduced or eliminated because of the pandemic will be deemed to be on Infectious Disease Emergency Leave. Workers will remain employed with legal protections and be eligible for federal emergency income support programs.
Many businesses had to close or reduce operations to comply with emergency orders necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19. According to Statistics Canada, 379,000 Ontario workers were temporarily laid off in April 2020, an increase of 2,496 per cent compared with one year earlier.
The regulatory amendment applies retroactively to March 1, 2020 and will expire six weeks after the declared emergency ends. The regulatory amendments do not include employees represented by a trade union.
The government is also supporting people and businesses by providing billions of dollars in deferrals and relief. That includes deferring $1.9 billion in Workplace Safety and Insurance Board premium payments until August 31, 2020, $10 billion in interest and penalty relief, and other deferrals to improve cash flow, protect jobs and help household budgets. In addition, the province is partnering with the federal government to provide commercial rent relief for commercial tenants and landlords through the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program.