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COVID-19: Ontario gave $200M in COVID aid for ineligible businesses, AG says; Province reports 780 new cases

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Ontario’s auditor general has found that thousands of businesses received a total of more than $200 million in provincial COVID-19 supports that they weren’t eligible for.

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It’s one of the findings in auditor general Bonnie Lysyk’s annual report, which looked at pandemic support for businesses among a wide range of other topics.

Her audit found lack of good consultation, improper tracking of funds, and poorly designed eligibility criteria allowed ineligible businesses to receive the money.

The report says the Ontario Small Business Support Grant lacked controls to weed out ineligible applicants and $210 million went to 14,500 ineligible recipients, which the province isn’t trying to recover.

The audit also found that the program criteria excluded some hard-hit businesses and that some recipients received more money than they lost in revenue, to a total difference of $714 million.

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Another audit found the province didn’t have enough personal protective equipment at the start of the pandemic, but could have been prepared if it followed recommendations that came in 2006 after the SARS outbreak.

There was also no legislated monitoring of PPE stockpiles for individual health-care providers and the ministry wasn’t transparent about how it distributed the limited supply of equipment.

Wait times for outpatient surgeries that worsened during the pandemic were also highlighted and another audit noted inefficient monitoring of assisted living services, which the province spent $389 million on last year.

Meanwhile, the presence of the Omicron variant in Ontario “is cause for concern, but it’s not cause for panic,” Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday during a hospital funding announcement in Mississauga.

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“Every day we learn more about the Omicron virus, about how quickly it can spread and how severe it may be. We’re learning about how effective our vaccines are, and every day that we hold off more cases entering our country, the more time we have to learn and prepare.”

Ford applauded the federal government’s travel restrictions and testing requirements for international travellers.

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“We cannot allow anything to jeopardize the gains that we’ve made,” Ford said, while once again urging Ontarians to get fully vaccinated.

Ford said more than 109,000 children aged five to 11 have already received their first vaccine dose in the first week since becoming eligible.

Ontario reported 780 new cases on Wednesday, with five new deaths.

There are 155 patients in intensive care, with 90 of them on ventilators.

The province conducted 35,364 tests over the previous 24 hours, with a 3.1 per cent positivity rate.

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