Province outlines plan to lift COVID restrictions step by step

The province has outlined a plan for the partial and gradual easing of COVID-19 public health restrictions, along with a warning that restrictions would happen again if hospitalizations rise. 

“With the new variants that are circulating around the world that are far more contagious, we must be, actually, more cautious, in some respects, than we have been before,” said Premier Jason Kenney. 

“So, please, do not take today’s announcment as a kind of encouragement for us to go out there and return to normal patterns of socializing,” he said. 

“Because if we make that mistake, what will happen is that we will lose the progress that we’ve made to date, we’ll start piling up more pressure on our hospitals again…, and, then, unfortunately, we would have to bring in additional restrictions again.” 

The new plan is based on reaching benchmarks for the number of people in Alberta hospitalized for COVID. 

Step 1 includes gyms, restaurants

Now that COVID hospitalizations are under the 600-person benchmark,  the first reopening step is scheduled to happen, on Monday, February 8. 

“These activities will still be bound by clear limitations,” said Kenney. “For example, there will be physical distancing requirements, activity restrictions, group size limitations and masking.” 

Starting that day, some dine-in options will be allowed for restaurants, pubs and cafes, said Kenney. 

A maximum of six people will be allowed per table. Individuals must be from the same household or be the two close contacts for people living alone.  

As well, some restrictions will be lifted on indoor fitness for adults.

Only one-on-one training by appointment will be permitted for indoor fitness activities. 

Step 2 includes retail business 

Step 2 would happen after the province sees the weekly average for hospitalizations drop below 450 people, at that point possibly easing some restrictions on retail, community halls, banquet halls, hotels and conference centres. 

Lifting restrictions will not be automatic, said Kenney, adding that other numbers, including new and active cases, the positivity rate and the infection rate will also be considered. At least three weeks must elapse between steps.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Chief Medical Officer of Health, January 29, 2021.

Step 3 includes libraries

At 300 hospitalizations, the province will consider easing of restrictions on places of worship, museums, art galleries, libraries, casinos, indoor seated events, movie theatres and bingo halls. 

“We will also consider indoor social gatherings, with limitations,” said Kenney. 

Step 4 includes festivals

At 150 hospitalizations, attention will turn to lifting restrictions on festivals, wedding and funeral receptions, indoor concerts, trade shows and rodeos.

City of Edmonton response

Following the provincial announcement, the City of Edmonton responded.

“In light of the Government of Alberta’s recent announcement that restrictions on indoor fitness may lift as early as February 8, we will begin a thoughtful approach to determine how this new information might affect the reinstatement of services offered by our recreation facilities. We will spend the coming days working through our plans and will communicate more details with Edmontonians as quickly as possible. Until then, all City of Edmonton recreation centres, leisure centres, arenas, pools, and attractions remain closed. We ask that Edmontonians continue to check edmonton.ca/COVID19 for the most up to date information.”

Hinshaw

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, also spoke at the provincial announcement. Hinshaw said the path forward is meant to return people to the activities they love while protecting the hospital system. 

“This is vital to ensuring that expert care and services are available for all Albertans when they need it regardless of whether it’s from COVID, a car crash or any other medical emergency,” said Hinshaw.

Hinshaw said there are 594 people in hospital, including 110 in intensive care, with COVID. Health officials have identified 12 more cases of variant COVID, bringing the total to 37, 34 of which are travel-related.

Fourteen people have died of COVID in Alberta in the last 24 hours, Hinshaw said.

Editor’s note: the pic at the top of the post shows Alberta Premier Jason Kenney on Friday, January 29, 2021. Also pictured is translator Kevin Colp.