The entire province of Alberta will move to Stage 2 of the government's economic relaunch plan on Friday, Premier Jason Kenney said Tuesday at a news conference.
Some steps of the relaunch that were scheduled to wait until the third stage of the plan will be rolled into Stage 2, Kenney said.
"Albertans should be very proud of their response to the COVID-19 pandemic," Kenney said in announcing the next stage will begin a week ahead of schedule.
"The last three tough months have left us bruised and grieving, in particular for the loss of 149 of our fellow Albertans," the premier said. "The deep economic and fiscal wounds will take some time to heal. But though we were bent we have not been broken.
"In fact we've come through it better than most, far better than most. Our health system was better prepared, our response plan launched sooner and was more effective, our citizens demonstrated great civic and personal responsibility and our infection and hospitalization rates were much lower as a result.
"We're effectively containing the virus as best as possible and, as a result, I'm very happy to announce that Alberta is accelerating our relaunch strategy further, to open our economy," Kenney said.
"This Friday, June 12, well ahead of schedule, Stage 2 of the relaunch will go into effect for the entire province and several of the activities that we had planned for Stage 3 will now be brought forward into Stage 2. This decision is anchored in science and solid data."
Stage 2 had been set to begin on June 19.
Stage 2 measures
Stage 2 will allow more businesses and services to reopen with two-metre physical distancing requirements and other public health measures in place.
That list includes:
- K-12 schools, for requested diploma exams and summer school.
- Libraries, with some restrictions.
- Places of worship.
- Wellness services, such as massage, acupuncture and reflexology.
- Personal services, including esthetics, cosmetics, skin and body treatments, manicures, pedicures, waxing, facial treatment and tanning.
- Movie theatres and theatres, with restrictions.
- Community halls, with limits on attendance.
- Team sports, with restrictions, for up to 50 players.
- Provincial campgrounds can operate at full capacity.
"Let me stress that no one should feel obliged to participate in any activity until they are ready and confident to do so, and that includes reopening businesses that have been affected," Kenney said.
Areas that were part of Stage 3 but have now been moved forward include:
- Indoor and outdoor recreation, fitness and sports centres, including gyms and swimming pools, with measures in place.
- Concerts, casinos and bingo halls, arcades and video lottery terminals in restaurants and lounges.
Events and gatherings that can be larger in Stage 2 include:
- Indoor social gatherings — including wedding and funeral receptions and birthday parties, with a maximum of 50 people;
- Outdoor events and indoor seated events, including wedding and funeral ceremonies, with a maximum of 100 people.
- As long as public health measures and physical distancing are in place, there will no longer be caps on the number of people who can attend worship gatherings, or patronize restaurants, cafés, lounges and bars.
Still not approved in Stage 2:
- Social gatherings that exceed above listed maximums.
- Regular in-school classes for kindergarten to Grade 12. Classes will resume in September.
- Vocal concerts (as singing carries a higher risk of transmission).
- Major festivals and concerts, large conferences, trade shows and events (as these are non-seated social events and/or vocal concerts).
- Amusement parks.
- Hookah lounges (permitted for food and drink only).
- Major sporting events and tournaments.
- Non-essential travel outside the province is not recommended. This recommendation will not be lifted until Stage 3 of the relaunch strategy.
The premier said Alberta needed to hit "three public-health triggers" to move to Stage 2. The first was COVID-19-related hospitalizations, he said, which had to decrease or see no more than a five-per-cent increase over two consecutive weeks.
"In fact, hospitalizations have been going down over the past two weeks, with only 44 COVID patients in hospital as of yesterday," Kenney said. "And that's with about 1,000 acute care beds set aside for COVID patients."
The second trigger was the number of COVID-19 patients in ICU beds. To proceed to Stage 2, fewer than half of the ICU beds dedicated to COVID-19 could be occupied. Currently there are six people in ICU, down from 22 at the peak.
The third trigger was the number of active cases. On Tuesday there were 356 active cases in the province.
As of Tuesday's update, the province has seen a total of 7,229 cases of COVID-19, including 6,722 people who have recovered. There have been 151 deaths from COVID-19, an increase of two from Monday's update.
The latest deaths were a man in his 70s in the South zone, and a woman in her 80s who lived at Intercare Brentwood, a Calgary assisted living facility.
Workers will need help, NDP says
Opposition Leader Rachel Notley called the announcement "for the most part" welcome news but said she remains concerned about seniors, residents in long-term-care facilities and "vulnerable" workers, such as those at Cargill meat-packing plant in High River, site of the largest worksite outbreak in the country.
Notley said the premier appears to be racing to reopen the economy but is dragging his feet on helping people affected by the economic shutdown. Many families will face fiscal challenges for months to come, she said, and with the federal CERB program winding down, many layoff workers will not qualify for employment insurance.
"What is the plan for those workers?" Notley asked. "The premier's description of how everything is really pretty much A-OK denies the actual reality, the actual experience of so, so, so many Albertans and the economic struggles they are facing."
With much of the province reopening, Alberta needs to hire many more health and safety officers to make sure businesses follow the public health guidelines, she said.
Fitness centre guidelines
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said specific guidance for operators of fitness centres will draw a line between high- and low-intensity activities, with more physical distance between participants required for high-intensity training.
"For lower-intensity activities, a distance of two metres would be adequate, with some enhanced measures for the regular cleaning of equipment," she said.
For something like a yoga class, she said, participants should be encouraged to bring their own equipment.
Other measures would recommend operators do regular screening to make sure patrons or users are not ill, haven't been in close contact with someone who is ill, and haven't returned from international travel in the last 14 days.
"Certainly it's been encouraging as we've moved through Stage 1, as we've opened additional businesses and activities, to see that our case numbers have been stable or declining in almost all areas of the provinces," Hinshaw said.
She pointed out that a recent spate of new cases in Edmonton shows why the public needs to remain diligent.
"With the cases in Edmonton recently, it's a reminder again that we need to all practise diligence in our public health measures and our distancing, making sure that if we're sick, we're not attending any kind of public event, that we're getting tested right away.
"And what I want to say about the recent increase in Edmonton is definitely, that we are watching it closely. We see a few events with transmission happening, a few workplaces that we're watching closely."
Kenney said Albertans have responsibly managed risk throughout the pandemic and have made many personal sacrifices to help control the spread and keep themselves and others safe.
"I'm confident we'll approach Stage 2 of relaunch with the same adaptability, responsibility and resilience," he said. "There will be more cases, more hospitalizations, and sadly, there will be more deaths.
"There will be local outbreaks, and some of those may require targeted measures to stamp them out. But if we stay vigilant and disciplined, if we stay dedicated, especially to protecting the most vulnerable, we'll be able to continue lifting the restrictions and expanding opportunities throughout the relaunch," Kenney said.
"Enjoy life, do it safely, and no need to panic."