Everything you need to know about COVID-19 in Alberta on Friday, Jan. 29
The Alberta government is planning to allow restaurants, gyms to reopen
- Alberta announced the lifting of some restrictions on Friday afternoon, including allowing restaurants to reopen in-person dining and gyms to reopen with limited capacity.
- Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing and Air Transat have agreed to suspend service to some sun destinations from Jan. 31 to April 30, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Friday.
- All international passenger flights, including from the U.S., will land at the Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and Montreal airports starting next week.
- The government will be introducing mandatory PCR testing as soon as possible at the airport for people returning to Canada, on top of the pre-boarding test already required, Trudeau said.
- Travellers will then have to wait up to three days at an approved hotel for their test results, at their own expense, which Trudeau said is expected to be more than $2,000.
- It is currently unclear how this will impact travellers taking part in a rapid-testing pilot project in Calgary, which is expanding to Edmonton in February.
- A shortage of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that left Alberta unable to administer even one first dose this week had provincial Health Minister Tyler Shandro bristling at the federal government Thursday. Deliveries to Canada have ground to a halt as a temporary shutdown at Pfizer's plant in Belgium disrupted its shipments. Shandro said Alberta will receive 63,000 fewer vaccine doses by the end of March than were promised by the federal government. A total of 104,327 vaccine doses had been administered as of Friday and 14,352 Albertans were fully immunized with two doses.
- Hinshaw reported Friday there had been another 543 new cases of COVID-19 with around a 4.5 per cent positivity rate.
- Since reaching a peak on Dec. 7 of 1,767 new cases per day, the seven-day average of daily new cases has been declining in Alberta. As of Jan. 29, the seven-day average was 463.57, which is roughly the level it was at in late October when the numbers were rising sharply.
- There are 7,805 active cases in the province, down from 12,920 a week earlier.
- The total of active cases in Alberta has been dropping slowly but steadily since it peaked at 21,138 on Dec. 13, a day after the UCP government introduced tighter restrictions that made working from home mandatory for those who could, banned in-person service at restaurants, pubs and bars, and entirely closed entertainment and recreation facilities from movie theatres to gyms, personal and wellness services like spas and hair salons. A few days earlier, the province had also instituted a mandatory provincewide mask requirement, and banned all outdoor and indoor social gatherings with people beyond one's immediate household.
- Provincial officials are also concerned about new and far more highly contagious variants of the novel coronavirus. As of Friday, Alberta has reported 31 cases of the more easily transmitted coronavirus variant from the United Kingdom, and six of the variant from South Africa. One of the U.K. cases could not be linked to travel, prompting concern it was circulating among the broader community.
- The variants seem to have an infection rate that's 30 to 50 per cent higher than the strain that's been in Alberta so far. England and Ireland have seen the variant spread rapidly throughout their populations and the U.K.'s daily mortality rate is the highest it's been since the start of the pandemic.
- Alberta has now lost 1,620 people to the disease since the pandemic began last March. Fourteen new deaths were reported on Friday.
- There are 594 people in hospital, which is a drop to what it was in early December before peaking at more than 900 people. As of Friday, 110 were in intensive care.
- Alberta's big cities were the epicentre of COVID-19 for a period last fall but lately it's rural areas that have seen the highest rates of active cases, relative to their population, the data reveals.
- For the second year in a row, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Calgary's public and Catholic school boards to cancel traditional graduation events.
- Currently, 291 schools, about 12 per cent, are on alert or have outbreaks, with 607 cases in total.
See the detailed regional breakdown:
Here is the detailed regional breakdown of active cases as of Friday.
- Calgary zone: 3,138, down from 3,202 reported on Wednesday (43,677 recovered).
- Edmonton zone: 2,662, down from 2,764 (47,756 recovered).
- North zone: 957, down from 1,010 (8,983 recovered).
- South zone: 340, up from 336 (5,411 recovered).
- Central zone: 692, down from 710 (7,998 recovered).
- Unknown: 16, up from 19 (114 recovered).
Find out which neighbourhoods or communities have the most cases, how hard people of different ages have been hit, the ages of people in hospital, how Alberta compares to other provinces and more in: Here are the latest COVID-19 statistics for Alberta — and what they mean
Here are the latest Alberta COVID-19 stories:
Airlines suspending certain flights, Ottawa introducing quarantine hotel stays to discourage travel
Canada's main airlines have agreed to cancel service to the Caribbean and Mexico and the federal government is introducing new mandatory quarantine rules as it tries to discourage international travel.
On Friday morning, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Air Canada, WestJet, Sunwing and Air Transat have agreed to suspend service to some sun destinations starting this Sunday until April 30, and will be making arrangements with their customers who are in these regions now to organize flights home.
"With the challenges we currently face with COVID-19, both here at home and abroad, we all agree that now is just not the time to be flying," said Trudeau outside his home at Rideau Cottage.
Starting next week, all international passenger flights, including from the U.S., will land at the Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary and Montreal airports.
The prime minister said as soon as possible the government will be introducing mandatory PCR testing at the airport for people returning to Canada, on top of the pre-boarding test already required.
Travellers will then have to wait up to three days at an approved hotel for their test results, at their own expense, which Trudeau said is expected to be more than $2,000.
Those with a negative test will then be able to finish their 14-day quarantine at home, with increased surveillance.
It is currently unclear how this will impact travellers taking part in a rapid-testing pilot project in Calgary, which is expanding to Edmonton in February.
"By putting in place these tough measures now, we can look forward to a better time, when we can plan those vacations," said Trudeau.
He also said that, in the coming weeks, Canada will begin requiring non-essential travellers to show a negative test before entry at the land border with the U.S.
- For more, see: Airlines suspending certain flights, Ottawa introducing quarantine hotel stays to discourage travel
Alberta health minister blames Ottawa for vaccine 'standstill'
A shortage of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine that left the province unable to administer even one first dose this week had Alberta Health Minister Tyler Shandro bristling at the federal government Thursday.
"We're ready and we're able to push ahead as fast as the vaccines come, but they're not coming. We were already at a standstill this past week doing no new first doses because of the cut in the supply from Pfizer," Shandro said at a news conference Thursday.
Earlier this month, the province was told its share of vaccines would be reduced between 20 and 80 per cent over four weeks. Then, Alberta learned it would receive none at all in the last week of January and 63,000 fewer vaccine doses by the end of March than expected from the federal government, Shandro said.
"This is a grim situation that seems to be getting worse every week," Shandro said. "We know that life for Canadians will not begin returning to something resembling normal until our most vulnerable are immunized."
Canada was among one of the first countries in the world to authorize the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines for use but other nations have since caught up, as Canada contends with shortages because of a plant shutdown in Belgium.
Pfizer is making upgrades to its Belgian plant so it can manufacture up to two billion doses this year to meet the insatiable demand.
In order to complete those upgrades, some production lines were idled and Pfizer didn't have enough vials to go around in the short term to meet its previously promised delivery schedule.
A Belgian newspaper reported Thursday those upgrades are now complete, but a spokesperson for Pfizer confirmed Canada's deliveries won't return to a more normal level until next month.
As of Wednesday, 101,123 Albertans had been vaccinated, with about 12,000 of them having received the required second dose.
Highest rates of active COVID-19 now in rural areas
Alberta's big cities were the epicentre of COVID-19 for a period last fall but lately it's rural areas that have seen the highest rates of active cases, relative to their population, the data reveals.
"I think there's a misconception that there are no cases and no impact in rural zones," Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said last week. "But, in actual fact, we have seen quite high numbers in some rural places."
Watch how active COVID-19 rates (in cases per 100,000 population) have changed since April, by local health area, in the time-lapse graph below:
Many of these rural areas don't have massive outbreaks in terms of absolute numbers, but do have high numbers of active cases relative to the number of people who live there.
In the Frog Lake and Wabasca areas of northeastern Alberta, for instance, nearly 1 out of 100 people had an active case of COVID-19, as of Tuesday's data update. A bit further north and west, in the La Lac Biche and High Prairie areas, it was about 1 out of 150 people.
Wetaskiwin County in central Alberta had the highest rate in the province in early January, with about 1 in 50 people battling an active infection at that time. But the numbers there have since been on the decline.
Restaurants, diners and politicians flout rules
A growing number of Alberta restaurants opened for dine-in customers this week in defiance of COVID-19 restrictions, prompting renewed warnings from public health officials about the ongoing risks posed by the virus.
And as dining rooms open, patrons across the province, including some politicians, have been flouting the rules, risking steep fines in an attempt to lobby against the current guidelines.
Lakeland Grill in Bonnyville temporarily opened its dining room on Wednesday, in a bid to pressure the provincial government to lift the current ban on dine-in service.
Co-owner Nora Kamaleddine said the industry is desperate for relief and clear communication from the government.
"People are about to lose everything," she said in an interview Thursday.
Among the diners taking a seat in the restaurant during the two-hour event were Bonnyville Mayor Gene Sobolewski, Lac La Biche County Mayor Omer Moghrabi, and Greg Sawchuk, reeve of the M.D. of Bonnyville.
Calgary school boards to cancel graduation ceremonies for 2nd year
There will be no dances, no parties and no large ceremonies for Calgary grads again this year.
For the second year in a row, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced Calgary's public and Catholic school boards to nix traditional graduation events.
Bryan Szumlas, chief superintendent of the Calgary Catholic School Division, said the decision is about ensuring safety.
"Safety of our students, safety of our family and safety of our staff, and because of the COVID-19 restrictions that are in place right now," he said.
Christopher Usih, chief superintendent with the Calgary Board of Education, said he understands students are disappointed.
"Certainly as a parent I know what I felt like for my daughter, who was not able to have a formal graduation. So I know that this is very important for families," he said.
Both school boards said they are now brainstorming ways to celebrate and recognize the milestone in a safe way.
Edmonton educators tackle truancy for online classes
Edmonton educators are worried students learning online may be missing hundreds of hours of lessons during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Edmonton Public School Board Superintendent Darrel Robertson said many students registered for online learning are not engaging in their classes.
"They're just sort of dropping off the face of the earth, so to speak," Robertson told the board at a meeting Tuesday. "We continue to try to connect with them and work with families."
Board chair Trisha Estabrooks said it's been an ongoing issue for many schools.
"There are students who — the division doesn't know where they are," Estabrooks said.
"I would say that that isn't unique to Edmonton Public Schools. These are incredibly challenging times for families."
Alberta won't follow Manitoba's stricter travel rules
Alberta's health minister says the province won't join Manitoba in placing new COVID-19 restrictions on interprovincial travellers.
Tyler Shandro says it's important to put in health restrictions as needed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, but travel within Canada remains important.
"We know that there is travel that needs to be made through provinces," Shandro said Wednesday. "We're not looking at advocating for any changes to interprovincial travel at this time."
Starting Friday, Manitoba is expanding its restrictions to require all domestic travellers — even Manitobans heading home — to self-isolate for 14 days after entering the province.
Alberta is one of four Canadian provinces, including British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec, to report cases of new virus variants, which spread faster than the original strain and could rapidly overwhelm hospitals.
Calgary has now issued 140 violation tickets
Calgary said Thursday it has now issued 140 violation tickets for failure to wear a face covering where required since Aug. 1, 2020.
Six of those have been issued since Jan. 21.
The city has also issued 173 violation tickets since Nov. 24, 2020, for violations under Alberta's Public Health Act.
Six of those were issued since Jan. 21.
For the latest on what's happening in the rest of Canada and around the world, see here.
With files from The Canadian Press