Canada COVID update: Alberta bans all gatherings, closes most businesses and makes masks mandatory

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Alberta is banning all social gatherings, closing restaurants, gyms and hair salons, and making masks mandatory across the province to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Premier Jason Kenney introduced the new restrictions along with Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, as Alberta added 1,727 new coronavirus cases and nine deaths Tuesday.

The premier said the new rules were “a last resort,” but necessary to slow down the spread of the disease.

“We know that if we allow viral spread at current growth rates, we will eventually run out of hospital capacity,” Kenney said, adding there are currently 654 Albertans with COVID-19 in hospital, including 112 in ICU. “That is not an opinion, it is a fact.”

The limits on indoor and outdoor social gatherings and province-wide mandatory mask mandate are effective Tuesday.

Close contacts are limited to within homes, and people who live alone can still have up to two close contacts.

The following restrictions are effective Sunday, Dec. 13, starting at 12:01 a.m.:

RESTAURANTS, RETAIL AND PLACES OF WORSHIP

Restaurants, bars and cafes will be closed to in-person services, but takeout, curbside pickup and deliveries will be allowed.

“Many restaurants and similar operations have told us that they’ve closed because they cannot pay their own bills right now,” Kenney said. “This will allow them to fully access federal supports and provincial supports as we get through the difficult following weeks.”

Schweitzer said small and medium businesses can get another $15,000 as part of a provincial relaunch grant. The government handed out $5,000 in the spring, and businesses who didn’t apply then can get the full $20,000 in support.

Other businesses closing also include: hair and nail salons, fitness and recreation centres, pools, arenas, libraries, museums and casinos.

Outdoor recreation is permitted with people in the same household.

Some health services, such as physiotherapy, acupuncture, shelters for the vulnerable and emergency services, will remain open.

Retail stores, and malls, can remain open but at 15 per cent capacity, and curbside pickup and delivery services will be allowed.

“Malls must be limited to commercial visits by customers, not be used as a place to hangout or socialize with friends,” Kenney said.

Religious gatherings will also be capped at 15 per cent. The province encourages virtual or online services.

Also starting Sunday, the government is making it mandatory to work from home for those able to do so.

The new restrictions do not affect schools, the premier said.

‘HERE IS THE HARD TRUTH’

The restrictions will be in place for at least four weeks, meaning Albertans are not allowed to visit their family during the holidays.

The premier says, with “great reluctance,” that holiday gatherings must be kept to members of the same household or the two close contacts for people who live alone.

“Here is the hard truth: Clearly the biggest single source of viral transmission is at-home gatherings,” Kenney said. “It’s when we let our guard down, it’s when we relax with people we’re close to and it’s when transmission most easily happens. And so, if we relax the public health measures to permit large family gatherings in just three weeks’ time, we will without a shadow of a doubt, see a large increase in hospitalizations and fatalities. We simply cannot let this Christmas turn into a tragedy for many families.”

Kenney did say Alberta’s R-value, or the rate of transmission, has stabilized just below 1.2, but added cases, hospitalizations and deaths are still rising.

The province’s positivity rate is 9.41 per cent and Alberta has reported an average of 1,785 cases this week, Hinshaw said. There are 20,388 active infections.

“Today we are asking to do even more, and while that may be overwhelming, it is what needs to be done. There is no other option,” she said.

Hinshaw will give another COVID-19 update Wednesday afternoon.

Alberta has reported 72,028 cases, 51,000 recoveries and 640 deaths since March.

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