Calgary, Brooks can join rest of Alberta Monday in Phase 1 easing of COVID-19 restrictions

Calgary and Brooks will join the rest of Alberta by allowing bars, restaurants, hair salons and barbershops to open on Monday, while more restrictions will be lifted across the province on June 1.

Alberta premier says the two cities can allow more businesses to open on May 25

Premier Jason Kenney announced on Friday that bars, restaurants, hair salons and barbers in Calgary and Brooks could reopen on May 25. (CBC)

Calgary and Brooks will join the rest of Alberta by allowing bars, restaurants, hair salons and barbershops to open on Monday, while more COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted across the province on June 1.

The rest of Alberta got the go-ahead more than a week ago to move to the first phase of the provincial relaunch plan on May 14, but the two southern Alberta cities were told to hold off on opening some businesses due to high COVID-19 infection rates — a last-minute announcement that caught many businesses off guard. 

However, on Friday morning Premier Jason Kenney said more businesses could open due to a significant decline in the number of active cases in both cities.

Starting Monday, hairstyling and barber shops will be permitted to reopen in Calgary and Brooks, and cafes, restaurants, pubs and bars can reopen for table service at 50 per cent capacity.

This map provides an overview of how COVID-19 has impacted the province of Alberta so far as of May 21, 2020. (CBC News)

The province had already allowed some loosening of restrictions in the two cities on May 14 for retailers such as clothing, furniture and books, farmers market vendors, museums, art galleries, daycares and out-of-school care.

It also allowed some non-urgent surgeries to resume and regulated health professionals could resume services as long as they followed the guidelines of their professional colleges.

Calgary mayor asks for continued vigilance

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said the announcement is not a surprise, given the decline in confirmed cases this past week. 

"I want to remind Calgarians that the reason we're allowed to do this is precisely because citizens have been so good about taking the right actions," he said.

"So don't let up on it now. The low numbers we have now are the result of people's actions two weeks ago. So think back to what you were doing two weeks ago and keep doing that."

The premier also announced Friday additional easing of restrictions as of June 1:

  • Day camps would be allowed to open with restrictions.
  • Post-secondary institutions would be able to offer summer classes with caps on participants.
  • Funeral services and places of worship could expand capacity.

"Thanks to the vigilance of Albertans, we are winning the fight against COVID-19," Kenney said.

"We are far, far below the level experienced in most of the developed world."

Kenney said the decision to open more businesses and some services in Calgary and Brooks comes on the advice of the chief medical officer of health. 

But he did warn that the virus is still a threat.

"While this is positive news for many, it doesn't mean that we're out of the woods yet," said Kenney.

Albertans are still required to maintain distancing requirements of two metres no matter what stage of the relaunch and businesses and individuals must continue to follow recommended hygiene practices to stay safe, the province said

Phase 2 and medical services

Phase 2 of the province's relaunch, which could see schools, libraries, theatres and more reopen, is still a wait-and-see affair, dependent on continuing declines in transmission. 

Kenney warned that past flu epidemics usually subside in the summer months before surging again when the weather cools. 

Health Minister Tyler Shandro announced that non-urgent surgeries requiring a hospital stay will resume next week and maternity services will return to Calgary's South Health Campus and High River General Hospital on June 3.

He also said voluntary testing would be made available in continuing care homes.

Rest of the province opened May 14

Calgary has consistently led the province in the number of cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic first hit Alberta.

This map shows the number of active COVID-19 cases in Calgary as of May 21. (CBC News)

And Brooks, at one point, had the highest per capita infections of any municipality — representing 26 per cent of the province's confirmed cases — due largely to an outbreak at the JBS meat-packing plant that claimed one life. 

That outbreak is now largely contained and the number of new cases continues to fall in the small Alberta city. 

Relaunch and businesses

The same holds for Calgary, where the number of new cases is also declining. The Calgary zone, which stretches far beyond the city's borders, recorded just 12 new cases on Thursday afternoon.

Businesses will face a new reality if and when they choose to open their doors, including the use of protective gear for staff and reduced capacity for restaurants and bars. 

In Calgary, the city has taken steps to help those businesses stay afloat, such as eliminating fees and lowering the number of bureaucratic hoops to overcome in order to open a patio on public or private property. 

Still, many businesses have expressed trepidation at reopening too soon, and Mayor Naheed Nenshi has stressed that a reopening date does not mean a business is required to do so. He has urged businesses to do what works best for them and reopen when they feel the time is right.