As active COVID-19 cases in Alberta continue to decrease, Premier Jason Kenney has announced restrictions for some sectors of the economy will be eased in the near future.
Some of these eased measures includes restaurants and gyms, as well as indoor and outdoor children’s sports, which will open in a limited capacity on Feb. 8.
On Friday, Kenney said the government will take a tiered approach, based on hospitalization benchmarks. The benchmark for opening things in Step 1 is less than 600 hospitalizations. Alberta currently has 7,805 active COVID-19 cases, including 594 people in hospital and 110 in intensive care.
“The more our numbers go down, the clearer our path becomes,” Kenney said in a press conference.
“Let’s not let our guard down… we are not through the end of this yet.”
According to a government press release, children’s sport and performance activities are permitted if they are related to school activities, such as physical education classes.
Fitness facilities will face a number of restrictions, including only one-on-one training with a trainer, sessions have to be scheduled and no group activities. Clients are not required to wear a mask while exercising, but trainers must remain masked during the session.
Restaurants must collect contact information from one person at a table and diners must be from the same household. There can only be six people at a table.
The second step, 21 days after the first easing of restrictions will be when hospitalizations are lower than 450. That includes some retail, as well as community and banquet halls as well as a further easing of Step 1.
“If cases of COVID-19 surge again, if we start moving once again to exponential growth like we saw in November-December, and if somehow one of these new viral variants takes hold in our community and begins to spread at rates seen in other parts in the world, we will have to impose stronger restrictions again,” Kenney said.
Step 3 will take place after three weeks after Step 2, when hospitalizations are below 300. That step will likely include places of worship, adult team sports museums, art galleries, zoos and interpretive centres, indoor seated events, including movie theatres and auditoriums as well as casinos, racing centres and bingo halls and libraries. This step also includes indoor social gatherings.
Step 4, with 150 hospitalizations or less would be essentially a return to every day, normal activities.
The premier added that Albertans should not take Friday’s announcement as an encouragement to return to normal.
“If we make that mistake, we will lose the progress that we’ve made to date and we will start piling up more pressure on our hospitals again,” he said.
“Avoiding that fate is in all our hands collectively.”
Albertans have been waiting for a sign of good news from the premier but had been met with silence for most of the past week. Several restaurants in Central Alberta took matters into their own hands and opened, flouting the restrictions that banned in-person dining.
The current COVID-19 measures, put into place in December were expected by many to be eased on Jan. 21 – only to be told over the last week by Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw to wait “a little while longer”.
The province did ease some restrictions on Jan. 14, allowing outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people and also letting salons, barbershops, tattoo parlours and other wellness services open.