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Ontario to spend $2.1 B to bolster health system COVID-19 response

TORONTO — Ontario will pump over $2.1 billion into its health-care system to bolster its fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

The funding will help create 1,500 new hospital beds, buy protective equipment for front-line workers and fund transitional care projects to ease hospital over-crowding.

The government says it will also establish a $1-billion contingency fund to cover any unforeseen costs related to COVID-19.

Hospital funding will increase by $935 million — nearly a five per cent year-over-year jump — to create the new beds to respond to the pandemic.

The government says $594 million of that funding is intended to accelerate work to address capacity issues which have plagued the system for years.

The new funding is included in the province's one-year fiscal outlook introduced today in the legislature, which includes a total of $3.3 billion in new health care spending for 2020-2021.

Finance Minister Rod Phillips said the province must make the investments in health care to protect Ontarians.

"As this pandemic unfolds, we need to be flexible and respond rapidly," Phillips said. "So, we have set aside a $1-billion COVID-19 contingency fund to be deployed as needed. The situation is changing day-by-day, hour-by-hour."

The province will also increase spending on public health services by $160 million to increase COVID-19 monitoring, surveillance and lab testing.

The fiscal update sets aside $75 million to purchase personal protective equipment and other supplies for frontline workers.

The long-term care sector will also receive an additional $243 million to help it prepare for a surge in patients related to COVID-19 and contain the virus. Part of the funding will be directed towards hiring staff to help with screening and enhanced cleaning in the homes.

"During this outbreak, we've been particularly concerned about seniors because we know that COVID-19 is more dangerous for them and those with underlying health conditions," Phillips said. "We have already implemented new active screening procedures at long-term care homes and restricted visits to keep our loved ones safe."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 25, 2020.

Shawn Jeffords, The Canadian Press

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