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A man walks by an empty restaurant in Montreal on Jan. 20.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

The federal government is extending its lockdown benefits for businesses and workers by one month, to March 12.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland made the announcement Wednesday in a news release, which also stated that the cost of the extension will be fully covered by the $4.5-billion provision for Omicron-related spending that was set aside in the December, 2021, economic and fiscal update.

The take-up of the benefits to date has been lower than what was originally anticipated in December, it added. The government said this even though the application portals for the benefits only opened on Monday, just days before the program was set to expire. Workers and businesses can apply for benefits retroactively.

The Local Lockdown Program provides eligible employers affected by capacity restrictions of 50 per cent or more with wage and rent supports of between 25 per cent and 75 per cent depending on the degree of revenue loss.

The Canada Worker Lockdown Benefit provides $300 a week and is available to eligible workers affected by capacity restrictions of 50 per cent or more.

The terms of the two programs were announced on Dec. 22 as a wave of Omicron-related restrictions were implemented by businesses across the country. The program initially covered the period between Dec. 19 and Feb. 12, but that end date has now been extended by one month.

According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), only 65 per cent of small businesses are currently fully open, only 42 per cent are fully staffed and just 30 per cent are back to their prepandemic sales levels.

CFIB president Dan Kelly said in a statement that the extension is welcome news that will allow businesses to plan for the weeks ahead as they await details on the lifting of restrictions. The advocacy organization also repeated its concern that the terms of the various federal programs have left many businesses without access to support.

“Many provinces are beginning to rapidly dismantle many of the COVID-19 restrictions, including lockdowns, capacity restrictions and vaccine passport systems. This is welcome news, but the reality is that until public-health officials and governments can encourage consumers to return to dining, theatre and travel, the COVID-19 fear factor will be enough to keep many Canadians at home,” Mr. Kelly said. “Until then, businesses are going to need some degree of support.”

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