Albertans will face tougher public health restrictions as the province tries to put the clamp on a third wave spike in COVID-19 cases.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced the new restrictions in a live address Tuesday evening. It was not a typical press conference where the media dialed in to listen and ask questions.
Alberta now has more than 23,000 active COVID-19 infections. It’s home to the highest case rate of a North American jurisdiction.
Currently there are 671 people in hospital with COVID-19, 150 of whom are in ICU due to COVID-19. In total there are 226 in ICU, including non-COVID-19 cases. That’s far more than the total number of ICU beds in a typical year. If pressed, Alberta could open 425 ICU beds. However, these ICU beds could be overwhelmed in weeks if exponential growth of COVID-19 continues. Kenney stressed the importance of not overloading the health care system.
“We will not permit our health care system to be overwhelmed, we must not and we will not force our doctors and nurses to decide who gets care and who doesn’t,” Kenney said
The following measures will be in effect for at least the next three weeks in areas with at least 50 cases per 100,000 people or more than 30 active cases.
Starting May 7, Kindergarten to grade 12 will move to at home learning until May 25.
Workplaces with COVID-19 outbreaks will be mandated to close for 10 days with exceptions for critical workplaces.
All post secondary institutions will move to online.
All retail services must limit consumer capacity to 10 percent of fire code capacity or a minimum of five customers. This includes both individual stores and common areas.
Outdoor gatherings are reduced from 10 people to 5 people with a strong recommendation that these gatherings be limited to two family cohorts.
Places of worship currently limited to 15 percent are now limited to 15 people as they were last spring.
Funerals which were limited to 20 people will now be limited to only 10.
Effective midnight May 9, the following will occur: Personal health and wellness services including hair salons, tattoo parlors, tanning salons and nail salons will close.
In person dining at bars and restaurants including outdoor patios will close, however they will still be open for takeout and delivery.
Outdoor sports and recreation will be limited to households and close contacts only.
Youth and adult performance will close.
Health, social and professional services like massage therapy, physicians and dentists, accountants, and lawyers will remain available but by appointment only.
Indoor fitness remains closed.
Basic fines for violating public health measures have doubled from $1,000 to $2,000. The maximum fine remains the same at $100,000 dollars. Tougher enforcement protocol will also be introduced for repeat offenders.
Enforcement needs to be upped
Concern has grown with many Albertans ignoring provincial health and safety protocols. Compounding the problem is the lack of enforcement.
Earlier this week, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said more should be done to deter people from violating the health restrictions.
“I’m really calling upon the court system and the crown to take this seriously. They are throwing out far too many tickets and they shouldn’t be doing it as it is a flagrant violation of public health orders,” Nenshi said.
Premier Kenney has faced much criticism for his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many critics would say that his string of actions has been outright ineffective.
NDP Justice critic Irfan Sabir said that enforcement needs to be a priority with any new restrictions.
“The time for education has passed. We need enforcement of the rules,” said Sabir.
“We’re now in a dangerous third wave of the pandemic and those who are intentionally flouting the rules are threatening public health and safety. It’s time for Jason Kenney and his UCP government to finally grow a spine.”
The NDP have pitched a plan to boost fines to $3,600 for a public health order offence.
The City of Calgary said they would review the new provincial mandate and update its response plan.