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COVID-19: Alberta continues rollback of public health restrictions

Alberta will continue its path towards endemic measures, as Premier Jason Kenney said the province would move to step two in the removal of public health restrictions.

Premier Kenney made the announcement in an atypical Saturday COVID briefing, three days before the March 1 target date for step two. Premier Kenney was in Grande Prairie at the ceremonial opening of the regional hospital in that city.

“We didn’t want to rush into it. We needed to make sure to take this one step at a time to be sure that our relaxation of these difficult public health measures did not push us back into an uptick in viral transmission or hospitalizations,” Premier Kenney said.

In the first week of February, Premier Kenney announced an abrupt end to the province’s Restrictions Exemption Program (REP). Food and beverage serving restrictions remained in place, as did capacity limits.

Masks were also no longer required for kids.

The province’s step two removes the provincial mask rules, lifts capacity limits, removes limits on social gatherings and eliminates work from home rules.  This will all happen March 1.

Masking will still be required in higher-risk settings – like on public transit and in continuing care centres. Health Minister Jason Copping clarified that this did not include taxis or Uber.

In Calgary, the city has removed the vaccine passport bylaw. It had been paired with the province’s REP. Earlier this month, Calgary also aligned its mask policy with the province.

Premier Kenney said it was important to respect each others’ personal decisions.

“As we transition out of the pandemic mode we’ve been in for nearly two years, there will be some who will choose to wear a mask or who make choices about their activities based on their own personal risk assessment and we need to respect those choices and the choices that individuals make,” he said.

Continued downward trend in cases, hospitalizations, premier said

COVID-19 case counts – along with testing – have dropped off significantly in recent weeks. Hospital and ICU admissions have also begun dropping. These were factors that led to the province continuing the restriction rollback.

“Fortunately, all signs here and across the world suggest that the worst of COVID-19 is behind us,” Premier Kenney said.

“The pressure on our healthcare system is easing as hospitalizations due to COVID 19 are declining.”

The premier said the 20 per cent decline in hospitalizations is one of the big drivers behind the removal of restrictions. Rate of new hospitalizations has declined “significantly” over the past month, the premier said.

“When considering all of this information together as a whole, there is no evidence at this point to suggest that our transition to normal is negatively affecting our health care system,” Premier Kenney said.

Premier Kenney did acknowledge that case numbers weren’t necessarily the best measure at this time.

“We recognize that due to changes in our PCR testing regime, that the number of active cases isn’t now the best metric, but it’s still an encouraging sign. Especially when we look at the positivity rate,” he said.

Kenney said the seven-day positive rate trend is hovering around 23 per cent; 10 days prior, Kenney said it was at 29 per cent.

Calgary mask bylaw ends March 1: City

According to a City news release as the announcement was underway, “The City of Calgary’s Pandemic Face Covering Bylaw 63M2021 will end automatically once the Province removes its requirement for indoor masking.”

Until that time, masks are still required, the City said.

Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) Chief Sue Henry said she was cautiously optimistic this was the entrance into a new stage of the pandemic. Still, she encouraged respect for one anothers’ decisions.

“Some of us will welcome the lifting of restrictions while others will prefer to continue wearing face coverings and following other precautions,” she said.

“We must be kind and compassionate toward one another, respect those personal choices and make space for everyone to move at the speed they feel comfortable with.”