Photo Credit: Northfolk via Unsplash
Last Wednesday, the provincial government released the 2021 Ontario budget, which focuses on protecting the population’s health and protecting the economy. The budget is the next phase of Ontario’s response to COVID-19 and is the second budget that the government has delivered during the pandemic
A large investment was made specifically to help seniors and people with disabilities get their COVID-19 vaccinations, where transportation was a barrier. The province is using this funding to launch an initiative to remove that barrier and ensure that anyone who wants a vaccine is able to get one.
“It is critically important to ensure that our most vulnerable get the protection of a COVID-19 vaccine and that’s why we are doing everything we can to remove any and all barriers,” said Ontario Premier Doug Ford. “In our 2021 Budget we are providing funding to help people get to the vaccines, or to bring the vaccines to them. The health and safety of our seniors and people with disabilities is a top priority.”
Ontario will work with local communities and public health units to implement this new initiative for those who need assistance. More details on how this program will work will be available in the coming days.
“At community centres, doctors’ offices, pharmacies and hospitals across the province our health care workers are delivering vaccines that will help us get back to normal; that’s what hope looks like,” said Peter Bethlenfalvy, Ontario’s Minister of Finance. “[Our] budget prioritizes funding to vaccinate every person who wants to be vaccinated, as soon as vaccine shipments arrive. Nothing will prevent us from getting the job done.”
The provincial government has been adhering to an integrated vaccination plan that started with Ontario’s most vulnerable people and frontline health care workers. Phase One of Ontario’s vaccination rollout is currently underway and Phase Two is expected to begin in April.
“You can’t have a healthy economy without healthy people,” said Bethlenfalvy. “For the past year, we have been focused on protecting people from COVID-19. Many challenges lie ahead, but hope is on the horizon [and] we are ready to finish the job we started one year ago.”
To date, over 90 per cent of the long-term care residents have been fully immunized and public health units are working with homes to vaccinate staff and essential caregivers as a priority. Additional health care providers have recently been mobilized to help administer the vaccine, including registered nurses, nurse practitioners, registered practical nurses, pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, paramedics and pharmacy students.
The 2021 budget builds on previous investments made in response to the global pandemic, bringing the province’s total investments to $16.3 billion to protect people’s health and $23.3 billion to protect the economy. Ontario’s COVID-19 action plan support now totals $51 billion.
Like economies around the world, Ontario’s has been significantly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. The province’s real gross domestic product (GDP) is estimated to have declined by 5.7 per cent in 2020. As the economy recovers, Ontario’s real GDP and employment are both forecast to surpass their pre-pandemic levels in early 2022. The newly released budget introduces additional measures that provide direct support for communities, families, workers and small businesses.
“The necessary public health measures have come at a cost for workers, families and business owners, but there is no question that they have saved lives,” said Bethlenfalvy. “We recognize the sacrifices that have been made. We are taking further steps to provide additional relief and support to those who have been most impacted by the pandemic, including providing a third round of direct payments to parents, doubling the Ontario Small Business Support Grant and helping workers with their training expenses.”
Without a doubt, the pandemic has impacted the province and country at large in more ways than one. While these investments represent another step towards recovery, a combined effort between the government and residents remains paramount. As such, residents are encouraged to continue engaging in discussion with the Ontario government about the province’s response plan to COVID-19.
“Eventually the pandemic will be behind us. It is months, not years away,” said Bethlenfalvy. “When this chapter is finally closed, I’m confident that the people of Ontario are going to unleash the economic growth that is necessary for job creation, prosperity and a stronger province.”
Residents are encouraged to visit Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine web page at www.covid-19.ontario.ca/covid-19-vaccines-ontario to get information on the province’s three-phase immunization program, the populations currently eligible for vaccination and instructions on how to book an appointment. Additionally, interested individuals can read the complete 2021 budget by visiting www.budget.ontario.ca/2021/index.html.