TORONTO — Ontario will soon end its temporary paid sick day program, The Canadian Press has learned.
The program that provided three paid sick days to workers during the pandemic will expire at the end of the month, a spokeswoman for Premier Doug Ford said Wednesday.
"As a time-limited pandemic measure, the Ontario government introduced paid COVID-19 leave, a program designed to support people who needed to take time off work to isolate or get vaccinated," Caitlin Clark said.
"Ontario has now achieved one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, and consistent with the sunset date for this program, it will expire effective March 31, 2023."
Clark saidit will not be replaced with another program, but said the Progressive Conservative government will continue moving forward with its plan to provide portable health and dental coverage to workers without paid sick days.
That portable benefits program is intended to cover workers in the gig economy, retail and hospitality jobs who don't have benefits, and accommodate people who may change careers throughout their lives.
Thursday's budget will mention the end of the sick day program.
NDP Leader Marit Stiles said her party was pushing for 10 guaranteed paid sick days for all Ontarians plus an additional 14 government-funded paid sick days during a public health emergency.
"This government is no friend to Ontario workers," Stiles wrote in a statement. "Nobody in Ontario should have to go to work sick, or leave a sick child, because they can’t afford not to."
Ford’s government first announced the temporary sick leave plan in the spring of 2021 after facing growing calls to bring in such a policy to minimize workplace spread of COVID-19.
Under the program, employers are reimbursed by the government for the paid leave days. Eligible workers can receive up to $200 per day for up to three days for pandemic-related absences like testing, vaccination, isolation or caring for relatives who are ill with COVID-19.
Ontario's labour minister said this week that the program has served more than 500,000 workers.
The government also said Wednesday that it is planning to lift some COVID-19 restrictions in long-term care homes beginning March 31.
The province said high vaccination rates among nursing home residents and staff have led the chief medical officer of health to begin easing some measures in a phased approach, starting at the end of the month.
Long-term care homes will still be required to monitor residents daily for infection.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore thanked Ontarians for their sacrifices over the past three years.
"Thanks to their continued efforts, Ontario has reached a point where it can begin a safe, cautious and balanced reduction of public health measures in long-term care homes across the province," he wrote in a statement.
"The health and safety of residents remains paramount, and we will continue to work with the sector to ensure residents and their families receive the level of care they need and deserve, in a safe and comfortable environment."
Beginning at the end of the month, testing will no longer be required for long-term care staff, caregivers and visitors who do not show symptoms.
The province said masking outdoors for residents, caregivers and visitors will no longer be recommended, but that recommendation will stand for staff who will be close to a resident outside.
Screening residents and temperature checks will also no longer required by the homes, the province said.
The province said it will also remove the cap on one caregiver at a time during a COVID-19 outbreak. Social activities will also be held without physical distancing.
The province is also encouraging homes that have retained vaccination passport requirements to revisit those policies and consider allowing visitors and staff inside regardless of their vaccination status.
Provincial data shows 5,335 nursing home residents have died from COVID-19 since the pandemic hit Ontario in early 2020. Thirteen long-term care home health-care workers have also died over that time frame.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2023.
Liam Casey, The Canadian Press