Canada will expand support programs to help people and businesses hit by the Omicron coronavirus variant, Ottawa said on Wednesday, warning people that worse was to come as the virus spreads.
Theresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer, urged Canadians to take precautions, saying in a news conference that “the situation can rapidly get out of hand anywhere.”
The highly-contagious Omicron variant has prompted several of Canada’s 10 provinces to reimpose restrictions.
“I do not want to minimize … the fact that we are in for some even tougher times ahead. That is true and that is really hard,” said Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland.
Canada has 2,360 confirmed Omicron cases to date. Daily new cases jumped to 11,300 on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, revealing that three of his staff and another three members of his security detail had tested positive, said he knew Canadians did not want to be facing another threat.
“None of us want to be here – we’re tired of COVID, we want it to just go away,” he said in the same briefing.
Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia — the three most populous Canadian provinces — have announced a range of restrictions to fight Omicron, which business associations warned would hit restaurants and bars particularly hard.
Freeland said at the briefing that Ottawa is temporarily expanding programs designed to cover the costs of wages and rent.
This expansion, which runs until February 12, 2022, will help businesses that have seen their capacity cut by 50 percent or more because of measures introduced to curb COVID-19.
Alla Drigola Birk of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce said the announcement “will be critical to [help] businesses to operate safely during this phase of the pandemic”.
Ottawa said in October that it was winding down much of its pandemic-related support, citing the recovering economy and the success of vaccination efforts.