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Covid-19: Alberta to lift public health restrictions, vaccine passport

Premier Jason Kenney announced on Tuesday a phased approach end to most public health measures to combat Covid-19 in Alberta.

Speaking to the media during the regular provincial Covid-19 updates, the Premier said these measures would begin to be lifted starting midnight on Tuesday.

The province’s Restriction Exemption Program ends immediately at midnight, followed by more measures at a later date.

The Premier called this plan a prudent and considered plan.

“In other words, with what we know now about the virus and the tools we have to fight it, the threat of COVID-19 to public health is no longer outweighs the hugely damaging impact of health restrictions on our society,” he said.

“Now is the time to begin learning to live with Covid.”

He said that the easing of restrictions would be done in three steps.

Step 1 of the plan will remove the mask mandate for K-12 students this weekend. Children under 12 will also be exempt from the general mask mandate for indoor settings.

Step 2 is targeted for March 1, where indoor masking mandates will be removed, along with most other restrictions.

“Following this stage, we will take more time to monitor trends—again with a focus on whether pressure on our hospital system is manageable. When it is safe to do so, we would then proceed to Stage 3, which would be to eliminate all remaining public health measures at that point,” said Premier Kenney.

Current public health measures
Incoming changes
Restriction exemptions program (REP) requires proof of vaccination, or a negative commercially obtained PCR test in order to access restaurants, night clubs, entertainment and recreation centers, fitness facilities, sporting venues, wedding and funerals held in public facilities, and chartered private passenger vehicles.No REP
Capacity limits on entertainment, event, and recreation facilities using REP set at 50% if capacity is over 1,000. If the venue has less than a 1,000 person capacity, then that cap is set at 500.No REP, and capacity limits will be lifted for all venues under 1,000.
Indoor events, restaurants, cafes, and bars that participate in the REP have a limit of 10 persons maximum per table, and no mingling between tables.No REP
Restaurants that do not implement the REP cannot have indoor dining for patrons.No REP

The Premier did say there’s room to pause the rollback of restrictions.

“Let me add an important caveat. If the current trends reverse themselves and if we see a significant and sustained increase in pressure on our hospitals, we may have to pause some of these measures,” the Premier said.

“But we are determined to get our life back to normal.”

What’s next for Calgary?

Recently, the city’s vaccine passport bylaw was amended to be in line with any provincial changes. As the city said last week, once the provincial REP is gone, the city’s passport ends, too.

Mayor Jyoti Gondek said they were able to meet with the Premier prior to the announcement. Mayor Gondek has been critical of the province not working with them on these decisions.

“I look forward to better days when the province understands we have the desire to collaborate in the best interest of all citizens,” she said.

The city’s Community Development Committee will get a Covid-19 restrictions update Wednesday. It’s uncertain if any action will come out of that meeting. Committee can only move forward with administration recommendations.

Mayor Gondek confirmed that the city’s vaccine passport bylaw will end when the province’s ends tonight. She questioned why the QR code aspect was limited, but alcohol consumption and cut off times remained.

“I’m pretty sure that the hospitality sector just got the exact opposite of what they wanted. Giving them more capacity doesn’t help them with the issue that they clearly stated, was a service that they can actually offer,” she said.

The mayor said they’d need time to further digest the province’s announcement before deciding what to do next. She said, and it was later confirmed in a city press release, that the mask bylaw remains in effect for people aged two and up. They also confirmed QR codes and proof of vax would not be required in city facilities or businesses.

Last week, the premier insinuated that he may be willing to amend Alberta’s Municipal Government Act to prevent cities from adding their own vaccine passports or mask bylaws.

Mayor Gondek said the city has some decisions to make about keeping their own workforce safe.

“We need to make sure that our guidelines are ones that work in the interest of our employees,” she said.

Reaction to public health mandates

According to recent polling done by Research Co., Canadians are largely supportive of the use of vaccine passports in a variety of settings. Respondents said that mandates in Alberta were a good idea or a very good idea, in gyms at 68 per cent, for working in offices at 70 per cent, going to live sports at 72 per cent, and going to theatres at 73 per cent.

Overall, satisfaction with government responses to Covid-19 has been falling, according to the polling data. In Alberta, respondents to that poll were 64 per cent moderately or very dissatisfied with the provincial response to Covid-19. Of those same respondents, 46 per cent were dissatisfied with the federal government, and 35 per cent dissatisifed with their municipal government.

Correspondingly, distrust has been rising towards all levels of government, and even within government.

Members of the UCP’s rural caucus have been vocal about their displeasure with continued public health measures in Alberta. This displeasure has also begun to be expressed amongst the federal Liberal party.

Liberal MP Joel Lightbound was reported by the Canadian Press as stating that the federal government’s approach to the pandemic was divisive and stigmatizing.

His comments followed weeks of protests in Ottawa and in the rest of the nation, ostensibly over the ending of an exemption for unrestricted travel by unvaccinated truckers over the Canada–U.S. border.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, speaking to reporters in Ottawa today, said that the federal government has been focused on using the best science and following the best public health practices.

“Quite frankly, it’s worked,” said Trudeau.

“We’ve seen the curves lower in Canada than elsewhere. We see lower death rates, we’ve seen quicker economic recovery because Canadians stepped up, because Canadians got vaccinated,” he said.

“I can understand frustrations with mandates, but mandates are the way to avoid further restrictions.”

Canada has had a significantly lower rate of deaths per million people than other nations like the United States and the United Kingdom. For Canada, this number is 912, versus 2,323 for the UK and 2,711 for the US.

Provinces and territories mixed on lifting restrictions, vaccine passports

British Columbia has extended their vaccine passport system through June. The extension was announced by B.C.'s provincial officer of health Dr. Bonnie Henry on Jan. 25, after the program was initially set to expire on Jan. 31. The province has begun lifting some restrictions on youth sports tournaments, although not for adults.

Saskatchewan will be lifting its own vaccine passport program on Feb. 13. Premier Scott Moe has also said that indoor masking rules will remain until the end of February before they are also lifted.

Manitoba will begin lifting some of its public health measures related to indoor capacity and private social gatherings starting today. That province's proof of vaccination requirements have remained in place.

Ontario announced some lifting of public health measures in late January. That province released a staged plan to increase indoor social gathering capacity limits, capacity limits in restaurants and bars, and other shopping and entertainment venues. That plan has all capacity limits removed by March 14.

The Government of Ontario has said that their province's vaccine passport will remain in place.

Quebec reopened restaurants for indoor dining at the end of January, and has begun implementing increases on indoor and outdoor venue capacity. Most of these restrictions are planned to be lifted by mid-March. The vaccination passport program, and masking mandates in Quebec remains in place.

New Brunswick increased public health measures in January, moving to the province's Level 3 restrictions. These measures ended public gatherings at any venues, and restaurants were limited to take-out and delivery. The province moved back to Level 2 at the end of January, returning to limited capacity at venues, and allowing for social gatherings. Masking requirements, and the province's proof of vaccination program, remain in place.

In the United States, New York State, California, and New Jersey have all recently announced an end to their indoor masking mandates.