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B.C.'s Economic Recovery Minister Ravi Kahlon says the provincial relief grant can help businesses with expenses including rent, wages, maintenance, insurance and utilities.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Businesses ordered to close last month because of public health measures in British Columbia to limit the spread of the highly contagious COVID-19 Omicron variant can now apply for provincial relief grants of up to $10,000.

More than 3,000 business operators could apply for the $10-million relief grant program, which provides between $1,000 and $10,000 to individual businesses based on the number of staff at the time of closure, Economic Recovery Minister Ravi Kahlon said Wednesday.

Bars, nightclubs and lounges that do not serve full meals, as well as gyms, fitness centres and event venues, were among those ordered to temporarily close on Dec. 22, with a reopening date set for next Tuesday.

Kahlon said the grant can help businesses with expenses including rent, wages, maintenance, insurance and utilities.

“These businesses are important members of our local communities and provide jobs to thousands of British Columbians,” he said at a news conference. “Please give them support, if you can, while they are closed. They need us just as much as we need them.”

The B.C. grant complements federal government programs that provide up to 75 per cent wage and rent support to businesses and $300 a week to eligible workers affected by public health orders, he said.

Businesses with five to 99 employees or staff on contracts are eligible for a $5,000 non-repayable grant and those with 100 or more employees or contract workers can receive $10,000, Kahlon said.

The grant applications will be fast-tracked, said Kahlon, who did not provide an estimate on how long it will take to process the applications and provide the grants.

But he said businesses that didn’t follow the health orders by staying open are not eligible to apply for the province’s grant.

“We have built in an auditing system to ensure those businesses that have defied orders will not be able to get access to the supports,” Kahlon said.

The province recorded 2,859 more COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and six new deaths, for a total of 2,455 fatalities.

There are 500 people in hospitals and the number in intensive care wards has increased to 102 people.

Also Wednesday, the University of British Columbia announced further delays in students’ return to campuses.

In a statement, it said it is now planning a Feb. 7 return to in-person classes after originally considering a return date of Jan. 24.

Simon Fraser University in Burnaby says it will go back to in-person classes on Jan. 24 as planned.

British Columbia’s largest lab service provider is the latest to face staffing shortages as a result of the rapidly spreading Omicron variant of COVID-19.

LifeLabs said it has been forced to close 11 of its 129 locations in the province, and five will operate with reduced hours.

“This change was implemented to maintain consistent and reliable service for our customers and reduce increased pressure on our teams,” the company said in a statement posted on its website.

“To maintain service in the community, we will be redeploying affected staff (from those sites) to nearby, central locations. Customers and health care providers will be redirected to those nearby locations.”

LifeLabs said it is monitoring the situation and will provide an update in two weeks.

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