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Ontario Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark speaks to the media at the provincial legislature, in Toronto, on Dec. 7, 2020.

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Cash-strapped Ontario communities will receive an additional $695-million to help cover pandemic-related costs, the province’s municipal affairs minister said Wednesday.

The funding is part of the “Safe Restart” agreement reached between Ottawa and the provinces earlier this year to help address pandemic expenses.

Municipal Affairs Minister Steve Clark said $399-million of the new funding will be provided to 48 of the hardest hit municipalities, while the remaining $299-million will be split amongst all 444 communities in the province.

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“This additional funding will provide municipalities with more certainty, as they plan their 2021 budgets to reflect the reality of COVID-19 in their communities and allow them to start 2021 in a better financial position,” he said.

Ontario municipal leaders have been calling for further funding in recent weeks to help avoid deficits they are not allowed to run by law.

Toronto Mayor John Tory said the funding will provide an immediate boost to the city as it continues to work on its 2021 operating budget.

“It makes the City of Toronto whole and balances our budget for 2020,” he said. “And it represents a good start, in fact, on addressing some of the issues we will continue to face in 2021.”

Clark said the province is continuing talks with the federal government and communities about pandemic costs in the months ahead.

“But suffice it to say, we’ll be there for municipalities,” he said.

Last week, the province’s Financial Accountability Officer said the pandemic will cost Ontario municipalities $6.8-billion over two years.

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Peter Weltman also warned that while the Safe Restart agreement provided $4-billion in relief, a $2.4-billion shortfall exists for the coming year.

Meanwhile, Ontario reported 2,139 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, and 43 new deaths due to the virus.

Toronto and its neighbouring regions are exploring the possibility of stricter restrictions over the holiday season as COVID-19 cases soar, Tory said Wednesday.

Tory said he and leaders from the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area are discussing using the next few weeks to “lock down even further.”

Toronto, as well as Peel and York regions — to the city’s west and north — are already in the grey “lockdown” level of Ontario’s tiered pandemic response framework but Tory said broader and stricter regulations are necessary.

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Health Minister Christine Elliott said 780 of the new cases were in Toronto, 528 in Peel Region, 148 in York Region, 143 in Durham, and 111 in Windsor-Essex.

In the province’s long-term care homes, 728 residents currently have COVID-19 and 22 new deaths were reported Wednesday.

The province said 135 of its 626 long-term care homes are experiencing an outbreak.

It also reported 223 new COVID-19 cases related to schools, including at least 188 among students. Those bring the number of schools with a reported case to 933 out of Ontario’s 4,828 publicly funded schools.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says Canada has signed a contract to receive up to 168,000 doses of Moderna's COVID-19 vaccine before the end of December. The first doses weren't expected until January, but Trudeau says deliveries could now begin within 48 hours of Health Canada giving the the green light. The Canadian Press

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