Alberta hopes to remove all COVID-19 capacity limits on indoor and outdoor events by late July
Letter to stakeholders includes timeline contingent on hospitalizations, case numbers
The Alberta government has proposed a timeline to remove all COVID-19 capacity restrictions for events including indoor and outdoor music, theatre and performance events by late July or earlier.
In a letter sent to a wide range of industry stakeholders dated April 9, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, outlined a potential timeline for audiences to return to live events over the summer months.
While contingent upon hospitalizations, case numbers, pressure on the health-care system and the vaccination rollout, it projects all capacity restrictions to be lifted on indoor and outdoor events by late July.
The letter says this timeline has the potential to accelerate if there are "better than anticipated case trends and/or more aggressive progress for vaccines."
"We are anticipating the ability to remove restrictions to enable a more normal level of operations by the summer, and acknowledge that the economic challenges you are facing requires the inclusion of an audience as soon as possible," Hinshaw wrote.
"Alberta continues to closely monitor COVID-19 and the variants of concern and is taking a cautious approach to easing restrictions over the coming months."
No final decisions made, Alberta Health says
The timeline is staggered and projects no in-person audiences for events throughout April or early May.
However, by late May, it anticipates the allowance of 15 per cent of fixed seating capacity, to a maximum of 100 people outdoors.
In late June, this is anticipated to increase further — to 50 per cent of fixed seating capacity to a maximum of 500 people outdoors, and 15 per cent of fixed seating capacity indoors, to a maximum of 100 people.
By late July, the removal of capacity restrictions is projected.
In an email confirming the letter's authenticity to CBC News on Friday, Alberta Health spokesperson Tom McMillan emphasized the proposed timeline will be dependent on the evolving state of COVID-19 in the province.
"We are helping performance groups get a sense of what the future could possibly hold, but no final decisions have been made. This includes any future decisions around specific timing and capacity limits at in-person events," McMillan said.
"Any future changes to the health measures in place will be based on the spread of COVID-19 in the province and our ability to bend down the curve. We will publicly announce any future changes when they are made."
Rising variant cases prompt possible new restrictions
On April 6, the Alberta government reintroduced stricter health measures to counter a surge of COVID-19 variant cases and hospitalizations.
But Premier Jason Kenney said on April 10 that once vaccines outstrip the variants, the province may be able to go forward with the Calgary Stampede and other outdoor events.
Calgary Stampede officials told CBC News that it is planning to go forward.
Hinshaw said earlier this week that more restrictions might be necessary "if we do not see growth slowing soon," but suggested it may be possible to host some big events this summer if enough people are vaccinated and case numbers drop.
On Thursday, Alberta reported 1,646 new cases of COVID-19, the highest daily total since Dec. 13.
Letter 'shows us the path forward,' Tourism Calgary says
Cindy Ady, CEO of Tourism Calgary, told CBC News on Friday the good news is the letter "shows us the path forward."
"It's the early signal that there is a potential for summer," Ady said.
A second year in a row of cancellations for events would be devastating, Ady said.
She noted that careful planning worked for events such as Chinook Blast and the curling bubble during the pandemic's second wave this winter.
"We persevered," Ady said.
With files from Helen Pike, Shannon Scott, Diane Yanko, CBC Edmonton