Ontario reported 4,383 further cases of COVID-19 and 10 more deaths from the illness on Wednesday, while the province announced new supports for businesses whose bottom lines will be hit by recent capacity restrictions.
The primary measure is a program that offers affected businesses rebate payments equivalent to 50 per cent of the property tax and energy costs incurred while capacity limits remain in place. Businesses eligible for the program include restaurants, gyms and smaller retailers, the Ministry of Finance said in a news release.
The application process will open in mid-January, with payments to eligible businesses retroactive to Dec. 19, 2021, the finance ministry said.
Furthermore, the province is also providing a six-month interest and penalty-free period for businesses to make payments on many provincial taxes, starting on Jan. 1 and running through to July 1, 2022.
Earlier this week, restrictions took effect that put a 50 per cent capacity limit on many indoor settings, including restaurants and bars, retailers, malls and gyms.
They were announced as part of an effort to curb the spread of the highly-transmissible Omicron variant.
7-day average of daily new cases now 3,520
Today's case count marks an 142 per cent jump from last Wednesday, when the province logged 1,808 cases.
The seven-day average of daily cases, which is currently on pace to double every five-and-a-half days or so, climbed to 3,520.
Ontario: New daily cases of COVID-19
Dr. Kieran Moore, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, said Tuesday that the province will likely see record-breaking daily case counts in the coming weeks. The most infections ever reported on a single day in Ontario were the 4,812 reported on April 16 of this year.
Moore cautioned that a rise in hospitalizations and admissions to critical care is also expected. As of Tuesday evening, there were 420 people with COVID in hospitals, up from 357 at the same time last week.
Similarly, there were 168 patients being treated for COVID-related illness in ICUs. That is up from 154 last Wednesday.
Positivity rates continue to spike in most health units. Public Health Ontario this morning reported a 10.7 per cent positivity rate on 58,038 tests. That is the highest level on a given day since April 26, in the worst of the third wave of the pandemic, when a rate of 10.9 per cent was reported from 33,822 tests.
The 10 additional deaths recorded this morning push Ontario's official toll to 10,133.
Meanwhile, 230,516 vaccine doses were collectively administered by public health units on Tuesday, the most since July 8. Of those, 208,671 were booster shots.
The Ministry of Health said today that it is working with Switch Health, a Toronto-based company, to set up a new mass vaccination clinic that will be able to administer 20,000 shots daily once it is running at full capacity.
More details about the clinic will be shared "in the coming days," a ministry spokesperson said.
The ministry has said the province intends to ramp up its immunization effort to do 300,000 per day for an extended period.
Health units reallocating resources in face of Omicron
More public health units in Ontario said this week they are changing their approach to COVID-19 testing and contact tracing in light of the Omicron variant.
Niagara Region Public Health said it is beginning to shift resources away from contact tracing to delivering booster doses of COVID-19 vaccines, which it said can "better blunt" the Omicron wave.
Growing case numbers are making it difficult for people to access testing in a timely manner, which in turn is delaying the identification of cases for followup, the health unit said.
At the same time, Omicron has shortened the time between exposure and becoming contagious, making it less likely health officials can intervene early enough to break the chains of transmission, it said.
"The utility of following up with cases and contacts has diminished, and will become increasingly less valuable as testing delays increase and case numbers overwhelm (Niagara Region) Public Health's capacity," the unit said.
Case management and contact tracing will increasingly be handled by artificial intelligence and outsourced support, it said.
The Hastings Prince Edward public health unit, which covers the Belleville, Ont., area, said it will no longer be able to call everyone who tests positive within a 48-hour period, and will instead focus on responding to cases in high-risk settings such as schools and long-term care.
The health unit said those who undergo testing should monitor the results online and contact their high-risk contacts if they test positive.
On Tuesday, Moore said the province is preparing to change its strategy on COVID-19 testing and case management in light of Omicron, with guidance expected in the coming days.
Earlier this week, Ottawa Public Health asked residents who show symptoms of COVID-19 but can't book a test quickly to assume they are infected and self-isolate.