Bars and other B.C. businesses affected by pandemic closures to receive more help

VICTORIA — More financial help is on the way for British Columbia businesses forced to stay closed for at least another month as the province tries to contain the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

A statement from the Ministry of Jobs, Economic Recovery and Innovation says businesses including event venues, bars, nightclubs and lounges that don’t serve full meals are eligible for grants of up to $20,000, based on staffing levels.

The funds, which double the amount available to those businesses, can be claimed through the provincial COVID-19 Closure Relief Grant.

Businesses ordered by the provincial health officer to remain closed until at least Feb. 16 are eligible for the larger amount, while those that have been allowed to reopen can claim up to $10,000.

The province says the $4-million extension of the grant program complements existing federal assistance, including the Local Lockdown Program and the Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit, which provide wage, rent or income support to those affected by pandemic-related closures.

Ravi Kahlon, the minister of jobs, economic recovery and innovation, says the province has increased the funding because some sectors are still affected by public health measures.

The Omicron variant is also forcing service changes in the Northern, Interior and Island health authorities. All three have announced adjustments in anticipation of staffing shortages and an increase in patients because of a wave of COVID-19 infections.

Each authority has postponed surgeries, while Island and Interior Health are relocating staff in an effort to maintain safe patient care.

Interior Health says in a news release that it has closed in-patient services at health centres in Clearwater, Invermere and Lillooet to stabilize emergency departments. It says those who have been affected by the closures will be contacted.

On Vancouver Island, staffing levels at larger acute care sites are being beefed up by moving ambulatory and surgical workers to areas of critical demand, Island Health says.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has warned that a peak of COVID-19 patients will be arriving in hospitals this week after infections in the community topped out earlier this month.

B.C. reported 2,387 new cases of COVID-19 and 35,770 active cases on Wednesday. Henry recently said the province has reached its testing capacity and there are likely more unconfirmed cases in the community.

The government said 895 people were in hospital, 115 of them in intensive care.

The Health Ministry said 56 health-care facilities had outbreaks, most of them in long-term care facilities.

It said 13 more people have died, bringing the death toll to 2,505.

Correctional Service Canada reported Wednesday that 28 inmates at the medium-security Matsqui Institution in Abbotsford, B.C., have tested positive.

It said 74.5 per cent of inmates are fully vaccinated and 44.6 per cent have had a third dose.

There were 62 active cases at the maximum-security Kent Institution in Agassiz, B.C., as of Tuesday.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2022.

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