Alberta rolled out tough new restrictions on Tuesday that prohibit all indoor social gatherings as the province reported 16 more deaths.
Premier Jason Kenney called the new restrictions “bold and targeted” as his government tries to slow a pandemic raging on a day when the province reported 13,349 active cases of the disease, by far the highest number yet.
“I am declaring a state of public health emergency in Alberta,” Kenney said at a news conference. “We are also announcing a series of targeted measures, approved by the COVID cabinet committee, based on recommendations from the chief medical officer of health.
“These mandatory measures will place new restrictions on social gatherings, worship services, businesses, schools and all Albertans.”
The province declared an earlier public health emergency on March 17, which ended on June 15.
Kenney noted that his government brought in limited new restrictions just 11 days ago, and until Tuesday had resisted calls for a lockdown because of the “profound damage” it could cause by throwing hundreds of thousands of people out of work and deepening the mental health crisis.
“It would also be an unprecedented violation of fundamental, constitutionally protected rights and freedoms,” Kenney said of a lockdown. “Instead, we focused, as we’ve done since the beginning, on targeted measures aimed at places where the data clearly showed that COVID-19 was spreading.
“We believe these are the minimum restrictions needed right now to safeguard our health-care system while avoiding widespread damage to people’s livelihoods. We are doing everything we can to strike that balance.”
Kenney called the pandemic a “once-in-a-century public health challenge” and spoke about receiving “heart-breaking” letters and emails from thousands of Albertans in recent days.
He said the decision to impose new measures came after he spent much of the weekend on the phone talking to front-line health-care workers, followed by an eight-hour long cabinet committee meeting on Monday.
“I read out some of these letters to my colleagues during yesterday’s incredibly challenging eight-hour long meeting of the COVID cabinet committee,” he said. “I did so to remind myself and all of us who carry the burden of leadership at this time of the profound human impact of this crisis and of our decisions.”
Across Alberta, 348 were being treated in hospitals for the illness on Tuesday, including 66 in ICU beds.
The new measures introduced on Tuesday will be evaluated after three weeks, Kenney said.
- Social gatherings — No indoor social gatherings allowed. Outdoor gatherings limited to 10 people. Unlike previous measures, these are mandatory and Kenney said they will be enforced with fines of $ 1,000.
- Places of worship — Faith-based groups can operate with mandatory reduced capacity, of one-third of the building’s occupancy. Mask use is mandatory.
- Businesses that must close include banquet halls, conference centres, trade shows, auditoriums and concert venues, community centres, children’s play places and indoor playgrounds. Sports are also included in this category.
- Food and beverage — Restaurants, bars, pubs and lounges will be open. Tables can seat a maximum of six people from the same household, while people who live alone can meet with up to two non-household contacts who are part of their cohort. Last call will continue to be at 10 p.m. and licensed food-serving establishments must close at 11.
Businesses that can remain open with restrictions include most retail businesses, with capacity limited to 25 per cent of fire code occupancy. That includes liquor and cannabis shops, grocery stores, pharmacies, clothing stores, computer and technology stores, hardware, automotive and approved farmers and seasonal markets. Also included are movie theatres, museums and galleries, libraries, casinos (though table games must close) and indoor entertainment centres.
Fitness and recreation centres can operate with reduced capacity, but only for individual workouts, with no group fitness, group classes, group training, team practices or games.
‘Social gatherings are the biggest problem’
“Let me just be absolutely clear about this,” Kenney said. “Social gatherings are the biggest problem. Many people may think that a family dinner or a get-together with friends is no big deal, it’s just normal. And you know, we don’t imagine when we gather with family that people are going to be transmitting a virus like this.
“But it is the key reason why COVID-19 is winning. These gatherings in the home continue to be the largest source of transmission and so they must stop now. That’s why, effective immediately, no indoor social gatherings will be permitted in any setting, and outdoor social gatherings will be limited to a maximum of 10 people. Let me repeat: no indoor social gatherings will be permitted, period.”
Kenney was joined at the news conference by Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Dr. Verna Yiu, CEO of Alberta Health Services.
This afternoon I will join <a href=”https://twitter.com/CMOH_Alberta?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@CMOH_Alberta</a> and Minister <a href=”https://twitter.com/shandro?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@shandro</a> to announce new measures that will help Alberta slow the spread of COVID-19.<br><br>We must act together to stop the spike, protecting both lives and livelihoods. <a href=”https://t.co/Nh2cGhhjtY”>https://t.co/Nh2cGhhjtY</a>
Albertans have been bracing for new restrictions, as cases continue to surge rapidly.
As of Monday, the province had 13,166 active cases, more than any other province in Canada. In her briefing Monday, Hinshaw warned that cases are escalating out of control.
‘Like a snowball’
“This is like a snowball rolling down a hill, growing bigger and faster, and it will continue unless we implement strong measures to stop [it]. We must take action,” Hinshaw said Monday.
“Waiting any longer will impact our ability to care for Albertans in the weeks and months ahead.”
Hinshaw cut Monday’s briefing short to meet with Premier Jason Kenney and the priorities implementation cabinet committee to discuss recommendations to reduce the caseload.
Alberta reported 1,549 new COVID-19 cases on Monday. It was the fifth consecutive day with numbers above the 1,100 mark. There were 328 patients in hospital, 62 of them in intensive care. The death toll stood at 476.
Daily caseloads have more than doubled in recent weeks. In the first week of November, there were just under 600 new cases a day.
On Sunday, Alberta led the entire country with 1,584 new cases, despite having a fraction of the population of Ontario and Quebec. Front-line doctors and epidemiologists have called for a shutdown of businesses and activities to reverse the trend.
On Saturday, in a Zoom call with the Canada India Foundation, Kenney said new health restrictions are likely to come but he continued to reject a sweeping shutdown as intrusive and ineffective.
“We will likely have to take some more restrictive measures, given the current direction of things here. Because, ultimately, our goal is to protect the health-care system from being overwhelmed while minimizing damage to the broader social, economic, mental, emotional and physical health of society,” he said.
“We are not exclusively focused on COVID-19. We understand that for every policy in response to it, there are unintended consequences, so we’ve taken a holistic approach, and we believe that that has been effective.”