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Alberta announces renewed restrictions and proof of vaccination as province deals with skyrocketing COVID-19 case numbers

Alberta’s government has announced a proof of vaccination system as well additional health measures in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID 19.

However, there are no additional business closures, as the province grapples with a skyrocketing COVID-19 case count.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said his hope was that Alberta could put COVID behind it when transitioning from a pandemic state to an endemic state in July.

He said they believed the province could prudently move away from restrictions.

“It is now clear that we were wrong, and for that, I apologize,” said Kenney.

Now, Alberta has declared a state of public health emergency and is taking immediate action to stave off the ongoing crisis in the health-care system, the premier said.

“To prevent an ongoing crisis, we must do three things urgently,” Kenney said while addressing the public on Wednesday (Sept. 15.)

“First, we must maximize our health-care capacity. Secondly, reduce transmission of the virus by reducing interaction with other people. And thirdly, we have to get as many people as possible vaccinated.”

He announced that there will be a restrictions exemption program for businesses (aka vaccine proof) but there will be no business closures, according to information provided to LiveWire Calgary.

These new measures come after two days of meetings by the cabinet.

“We have no choice but to face the grave threat of this fourth wave head on,” Premier Jason Kenney said.

He said we could have no ICU beds within 10 days. He said maximizing health care capacity, reduction transmission and vaccination will drive numbers down.

“Unless we slow transmission among the unvaccinated Albertans, we simply will not be able to care for everyone who gets sicks, based on current trends,” Premier Kenney said.

He said Alberta is facing these new restrictions because we have the lowest population vaccinated, despite education and the best incentives in Canada.

In addition to the vaccine proof, there is a mandatory work from home order, with exemptions.

Alberta’s Health Minister Tyler Shandro said we have no choice but to implement aggresive measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“Vaccines are the only way out of these public-health restrictions,” said Shandro.

Proof of immunization required

Starting Sept. 20, vaccine-eligible individuals will be required to provide government-issued proof of immunization or a negative privately paid COVID-19 test from within the previous 72 hours to access a variety of participating social, recreational and discretionary events and businesses throughout the province.

To enter certain spaces that are participating in the program, including restaurants, bars and indoor organized events, people aged 12 and older will be required to show their proof of vaccination or a negative recent test result.

Businesses that implement the Restrictions Exemption Program would operate as usual, provided they are serving only people who have proof of immunization or who have a recent privately paid negative test, as per the requirements in place.

This means they could immediately and without restriction serve any individual eligible for vaccination who:

Has proof of double vaccination (note that for a transitional period between Sept. 20 and Oct. 25, proof of a single dose would be considered acceptable as long as the dose was given two weeks or more before the time of service).

Has documentation of a medical exemption.

Has proof of a recent (within the previous 72 hours) negative COVID-19 test (either PCR or Rapid Test). The test may not be from Alberta Health Services or Alberta Precision Laboratories.

Those under age 12 would not need to provide proof of immunization or a negative test to enter a participating business.

This program would not apply to businesses or entities that need to be accessed for daily living.

Albertans can access copies of their COVID-19 vaccination records through MyHealth Records. For the time being, Albertans should avoid logging into MyHealth Records to download their records.

The printable card, which was going to be made available on Sept. 16, will now be available on Sept. 19.

Speaking to the public, Chief Medical officer of Health (CMOH) Dr. Dina Hinshaw said Albertans must meet the challenge the fourth wave is presenting, especially as health-care capacity is stretched to its limits. 

Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw at a Feb. 16, 2021 COVID-19 media conference. ABGOV FLICKR

“To ask Albertans yet again to step up, to protect each other through activity restrictions after all we have been through, is agonizing. And yet it is absolutely necessary,” Hinshaw said. 

“Our hospitals cannot sustain care for all Albertans with the dramatic and rapid increase of COVID patients that we are seeing.”

She also apologized for advising the government to transition from a pandemic phase to an endemic phase “too soon.”

“I made recommendations earlier this summer, based on the best information I had,” said Hinshaw. and I regret that we began and move to an endemic transition too soon.”

New measures implemented

As of 12:01 a.m. on Sept. 16, a number of new public health measures will come into effect.

Masking will continue to be mandatory in all indoor public spaces, and physical distancing will now be required, meaning that in public spaces, people must maintain a two meter distance from everyone outside of their household.

It’s also expected there will be indoor gathering restrictions in place, including for places of worship. They will have mandatory distance regulations and 1/3 of capacity.

Outdoor events will have a 2 metre distance requirement with limits. Indoor sports will be permitted as long as there’s two metres distance.

Schools will have mandatory masking in place for Grades 4 and up. Children’s sports will still be allowed, provided there is masking and distancing.

Calgary’s face mask bylaw is in place until December 2021. PAUL VILLENA / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Restaurants are able to have one household, with no more than 6 people. 

The liquor rules are the same as they were when first implemented on Sept. 3.

As of Sept. 20, indoor weddings and funeral ceremonies limited to 50 people or 50 per cent of fire code capacity.

Indoor dining will close immediately for bars/restaurants, outdoor dining may continue following the same close contact rule previously implemented. There will be no liquor sales after 10 p.m and no consumption after 11 p.m.

Retail capacity will be restricted to one-third capacity. This applies to movie theatres, libraries, museums, galleries, racing centres, bingo halls, water entertainment, indoor fitness, recreation, sports, dance/yoga studios, swimming polls, gymnastics.

Adult indoor sports team games will not be permitted. Casinos can remain open at one-third capacity with same liquor rules stated.

Outdoor seasonal markets are allowed to continue and doctors’ offices will have in-person services.

On Wednesday, Alberta reported 1,609 new cases of COVID-19 and 24 new deaths, the highest number of deaths reported in one day in the province’s fourth wave. 

There are 877 people in hospital, including 218 in intensive care. Of the ICU patients, around 92 per cent are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.

Official opposition said it’s a ‘crisis of the Premier’s own making’

Alberta’s Official Opposition leader Rachel Notley of the NDP said that the province hasn’t yet explained why they failed to act for weeks.

“Once again, those Albertans who did the right thing and got their shot will be punished for the failures of this UCP government to act. Once again, we’re back to step one. Cancelling events, working from home, and being forced to keep friends and family out. Agonizing choices about who cannot attend a wedding or a funeral,” Notley said.

“I know Albertans who sacrificed so much to follow the rules, who struggled for 18 months, who gave up their Christmas dinners are very frustrated today. They’re angry.”

Notley said she wanted to be explicitly clear, what Premier Kenney offered wasn’t an apology.

“And while in one short breath he offered an apology, in many others, he made even more excuses, he talked up his own record, and even when given a second chance to apologize, he claimed his decision to push Alberta faster and harder than the rest of Canada was not at the heart of the crisis we face today,” she said.

“He refused to take responsibility.”

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi also responded Wednesday evening, after the three-day final meeting of Calgary city council.

“I don’t know how to feel. I’m mad, I’m sad, I’m disappointed, I have a little bit of better late than never,” Nenshi said.

“But I can’t shake the feeling that it didn’t have to be this way.”

It’s a lurch from one thing to another that the province said they wouldn’t do, instead of “carving a reasonable path forward,” he said. Nenshi said he was frustrated that the Premier, in his address, kept talking about the divide among Albertans.

“The most disappointing thing for me tonight was hearing the Premier repeatedly characterizing Alberta as a place that is divided,” Nenshi said.

“That division, Premier, exists in your mind, and maybe in your caucus. It does not exist in the streets of Alberta.”

With files from Darren Krause