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Power lines run out of the the Hydro One Claireville Transfer Station, in Vaughan, Ont.Tim Fraser/The Globe and Mail

Ontario is temporarily slashing hydro rates for families, farmers and small businesses amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Premier Doug Ford, alongside Energy Minister Greg Rickford, announced Tuesday that the province will lower rates for at least six weeks to offset higher consumption as more people work from home or remain in self-isolation.

What is an ‘essential’ business?

As COVID-19 continues to spread, some provinces have used emergency powers to enforce physical distancing by closing “non-essential" businesses. Companies whose employees work from home, or who use digital storefronts, can continue to do so. But in many provinces, only services deemed essential will have physical locations open. These include:

  • Food and liquor: Grocery and convenience stores, restaurants (take out and delivery only). Pet-food stores included. Liquor stores are open on special hours.
  • Utilities: Energy, water, telecom and garbage-collection services will continue to run.
  • Shelters: Services will continue for homeless people and survivors of domestic violence.
  • Banks: Financial services are on every province’s essential list, but some banks may have reduced or changed hours at branches.
  • Government services: Health care and online higher education will continue, but public schools are closed.
  • Transportation: Public transit, taxis and postal delivery are running, as are transportation sectors needed for supply chains.

Read the full list of essential services in Ontario, Quebec, B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, PEI and Newfoundland and Labrador.

You can also read The Globe and Mail’s digest of the latest news about COVID-19′s spread around the world and sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter.

“We know this is a challenging time for all Ontarians who are doing the right thing by staying home. We realize this means people are using more electricity during the day,” Mr. Ford said at Queen’s Park.

“To help families and households across the province, we are switching to off-peak, ‘time of use’ electricity rates, saving customers over 50 per cent compared to peak rates, for the next 45 days.”

Mr. Ford said small business and farmers will also be eligible for reduced rates.

“This means you will pay the lowest rate possible, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said.

The estimated cost will be $162-million in lost revenue, Mr. Rickford later said.

“No action is required from electricity consumers. This change will happen automatically,” he said.

The Ontario Energy Board is also extending the current ban on electricity disconnection for households and small businesses that fail to pay their utility bills to July 31.

Starting Tuesday, rates will be lowered to the current off-peak rate of 10.1 cents per kilowatt hour. Currently, the mid-peak rate is 14.4 cents and the on-peak rate is 20.8 cents. On-peak hours are 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays; off-peak hours are 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., as well as weekends and holidays.

The government estimates families will save more than $20 per month, while small businesses will save $150 and farms will save more than $300.

Mr. Ford recently said “relief” is coming to Ontario families who are staying home during the coronavirus pandemic, adding that his government wants to give people flexibility during difficult times, allowing them to do laundry or run the dishwasher any time of day.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford is ordering the closure of all non-essential businesses in the province to help deal with the spread of COVID-19. Ford says the order will be effective Tuesday at 11:59 p.m. and will be in place for at least 14 days. He says he will release the list of businesses Tuesday that will be allowed to stay open, but food will remain on the grocery store shelves and people will still have access to medication.

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