Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government is expanding the number of businesses that can use COVID-19 aid programs as the omicron variant fuels a surge in cases and new restrictions in Canada. 

At a press conference with Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland, Trudeau said companies and individuals affected by new capacity limits will be eligible for extended financial help. Firms can receive wage and rent subsidies of 25 per cent to 75 per cent depending on how much revenue they’ve lost, the government said in a statement. 

Trudeau’s government and Canada’s provinces have been caught by an exponential rise in cases in recent days, with testing labs in some places becoming jammed with patients. Quebec is a particular hot spot: the French-speaking province on Wednesday reported a record 6,361 new cases in the past 24 hours. It has 445 people hospitalized with the virus, nearly double the number at the start of December.

Governments are now pleading for Canadians to be cautious with their Christmas gatherings. When asked about the contrast between Trudeau’s message and that of U.S. President Joe Biden -- who said Tuesday that vaccinated Americans can safely enjoy the holidays -- Freeland pushed back. 

“Look, Canada is not the United States and I think all of us know that very profoundly. Our countries have taken very different approaches in the fight against COVID,” she said at a news conference. Canada has had 80 virus deaths per 100,000 people compared with 247 deaths in the U.S., according to data from Johns Hopkins University. 

Workers can also receive benefits if they’ve lost at least of half their income due to COVID-19 public health lockdowns. Provinces including Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia have introduced capacity restrictions on gyms, bars, event venues and other businesses in recent days.

In October, Freeland shut down the government’s broad-based virus support programs for individuals and businesses, replacing them with new targeted aid for the hardest-hit industries. The new programs were initially estimated to cost $7.4 billion (US$6 billion), but the changes will add $4 billion to the price tag, Freeland said.

The government set aside $4.5 billion for higher costs related to COVID-19 in a fiscal update last week