Alberta tightens restrictions, increases fines for COVID-19 rule-breakers
Province reports 1,743 new cases and 9 new deaths
The Alberta government has introduced a bundle of tougher public-health restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 — measures Premier Jason Kenney argued are needed to keep the health-care system from being overwhelmed.
All kindergarten to Grade 12 students in Alberta will move to at-home learning starting on Friday and continuing until after the May long weekend, and all workplaces in the province with COVID-19 outbreaks will be closed.
Other new measures include closing restaurants and bars to in-person dining, closing down personal care services such as hair salons and limiting outdoor gatherings to five people.
Kenney announced the measures in a televised address Tuesday evening. They are among the toughest restrictions introduced in Alberta since last spring.
Retail stores must limit capacity to 10 per cent of their fire code occupancy "or a minimum of five customers," not including staff.
"Governments must not impair peoples' rights or their livelihoods unless it is absolutely necessary to save lives, and in this case, to prevent a disaster from unfolding in our hospitals," Kenney said.
"We will not permit our health-care system to be overwhelmed. We must not, and we will not force our doctors and nurses to decide who gets care and who doesn't. And that is why we must act now to stop the spike."
2-week 'reset' for schools
With the move to close schools, Kenney acknowledged the disruption for students and their parents.
"But with the current level of community spread, 80,000 students and staff are in self-isolation, and we will soon reach a point where many schools will not be able to operate," he said. "This two-week reset will allow schools to come back for in-classroom instruction for the rest of the academic year."
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The new restrictions, which will take effect immediately and be in place for at least three weeks, also include:
- Workplaces with COVID-19 outbreaks will be mandated to close for 10 days, with exemptions for critical workplaces.
- All post-secondary instruction will move online.
- Outdoor social gatherings will be limited to five people.
- Places of worship will be limited to 15 people.
- Funerals will be limited to 10 people.
The following measures will be effective at 11:59 p.m. on Sunday:
- Personal and wellness services, including hair salons, tattoo parlours, tanning salons and nail salons, will close for three weeks.
- In-person dining at bars and restaurants, including outdoor patios, will close for the same period. They can continue offering take-out and delivery.
- Outdoor sports and recreation will be limited to household and close contacts only.
- Youth and adult arts performance will stop.
- Health, social and professional services — such as massage therapy, physicians and dentists, accountants and lawyers — will be available by appointment only.
- The basic fine for violating public health measures will double to $2,000. The maximum fine for serious offences remains $100,000.
These measures apply to any region or community except those with fewer than 50 cases per 100,000 people and fewer than 30 active cases.
The province is also introducing "tougher enforcement" for repeat offenders, Kenney said.
The premier called vaccines the "good news" in an otherwise troubling story, saying they will "catch up to the virus and defeat it."
"But until then, we have to protect our hospitals."
NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley called the new restrictions confusing and lacking in clarity.
At a news conference following the premier's address, she said the short time frame "creates instability and unpredictability" and undermines people's ability to plan, especially small business owners.
"Albertans, you're frustrated, you're confused, you're angry and you're scared and this announcement should have helped, but I'm afraid it has mostly just created more questions," she said.
Daily case count still high
Alberta reported 1,743 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday for a total of 23,623 active cases, the highest total since the pandemic began 14 months ago. Alberta has the highest case rate in Canada.
Testing detected 876 more cases of variants of concern for a total of 14,728 active variant cases — more than 62 per cent of all active cases in the province.
Hospitals were treating 671 patients with the illness as of Tuesday, including 150 in intensive-care beds.
Alberta reported nine more deaths, bringing its pandemic death toll to 2,099.
Further details on the new restrictions will be provided at a Wednesday morning news conference, which will involve Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and Justice Minister Kaycee Madu and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health.
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