Alberta to ease some COVID-19 restrictions starting Monday, health minister says

With case numbers falling, Alberta will ease some public health restrictions starting on Monday, allowing hair salons, barbershops and other personal-services businesses to reopen by appointment only.

Province reports 967 new cases of the illness and 21 more deaths

Health Minister Tyler Shandro joined Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, at Thursday's COVID-19 news conference. (The Canadian Press)

With case numbers falling, Alberta will ease some public health restrictions starting on Monday, allowing hair salons, barbershops and other personal-services businesses to reopen by appointment only.

Also starting on Jan. 18, up to 10 people will be allowed to gather outdoors, and up to 20 people will be allowed to attend funerals provided all who attend wear masks and maintain two metres of physical distancing.

Indoor gatherings remain prohibited and funeral receptions are still not allowed.

"Alberta's case numbers and hospitalizations remain high and they pose a threat to our health-care system capacity and they continue to," Health Minister Tyler Shandro said Thursday at a news conference.

The changes will impact hair salons, barber shops, esthetics, manicure and pedicure businesses, reflexology, piercing and tattoo shops, and other personal and wellness services throughout the province. Appointments should be limited to one-on-one services and businesses, he said, and clients are expected to keep following the public health guidelines.

'We can't entirely ease up'

The mandatory health measures introduced in December were intended to limit as much in-person interaction as possible, he said, to minimize exposure to the virus.

"Today we can't entirely ease up on this goal, but we can make small adjustments to provide Albertans with some limited activities," he said.

"We made these decisions very carefully and these measures were eased based on the expertise and advice of our chief medical officer, Dr. Hinshaw," Shandro said.

"We want to stop as a province going back and forth with tightening and then loosening the rules, and I'm sure that Albertans are tired of going back and forth themselves."

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The government also had to take into consideration the fact that two variants of the COVID-19 virus — one first identified in the United Kingdom and another first identified in South Africa — have now appeared in the province.

"We've seen escalating case counts in other countries because of the infectiousness of these variants," he said, "and we must not move too quickly to open up restrictions.

"At this point I want to stress to everyone that while we are actively looking at what restrictions we are able to ease in the weeks ahead in order to make any further changes.

"We need everyone's co-operation to stay within the rules. That means mandatory masking in all public indoor spaces and working from home if it's possible. Don't bend the rules to fit you. They're not designed to be flexible."

Easing of restrictions data-based, Hinshaw says

In making the decision, the province looked at everything that was closed in December when case counts were rising very quickly along with hospitalization and ICU numbers, said Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health.

"When we were considering what we might be able to reopen first, we did look at the evidence of transmission in the different settings that are currently closed or have significant restrictions in place," she said.

The decision to ease some restrictions was based on provincial data and research published around the world, she said.

"And as I mentioned yesterday, we have not seen significant transmission in those settings," she said of personal-services businesses.

"In December we did have to include them in the list in order to reduce the number of close contacts that Albertans had with each other on a daily basis.

"And as we were discussing the possibility of what things could be opened, the things that are being announced today were part of my recommendation, based on the evidence, based on the levels of transmission that we have seen in different places."

The case trend today is very different than it was in December, she said.

"This is not a guarantee of the future though," Hinshaw said. "Of course our future will depend on Albertans remaining responsible and those businesses that are currently opening doing so following all of the public health measures.

"So again, the point being that the opportunity that we have today to begin starting to lift some of the limits is entirely dependent on all of us continuing to follow the measures in place in every setting."

Death toll now 1,389

The province reported 967 new cases of the illness on Thursday and 21 more deaths.

Alberta hospitals are treating 806 for COVID-19, including 136 patients who are in ICU beds.

The death toll since the pandemic began in March has now reached 1,389. The youngest person to die was 23, the oldest 107.

Here's an age breakdown:

  • 0-19 years, no deaths.
  • 20-29 years, five deaths.
  • 30-39 years, seven deaths.
  • 40-49 years, 14 deaths.
  • 50-59 years, 40 deaths.
  • 60-69 years, 140 deaths.
  • 70-79 years, 281 deaths.
  • 80+ years, 902 deaths.

A total of 66,953 doses of vaccine had been administered by the end of the day on Wednesday.