Alberta opens COVID-19 booster shots to all Albertans 18 and over as Omicron wave builds
Premier announces new restrictions around venue capacities amid soaring case counts
With the Omicron variant taking hold in Alberta, the province announced new measures to prevent cases of COVID-19 from filling hospitals during the holiday season.
Starting immediately, all Albertans aged 18 and older who received their second COVID-19 vaccine at least five months ago can book a third dose, the province announced Tuesday.
"I fully expect that we are going to see rapid growth of Omicron," Premier Jason Kenney said at a news conference on Tuesday. "We've gone from a positivity rate in the range of four per cent to 11 per cent today.
"We should all be very concerned," he said.
The best way for Albertans to respond to this wake up call is by stepping forward to getting their third vaccination shot, he said.
"There are still many unknowns about this, and we should continue to very closely study the emerging data around the world, but what we do know is that this variant is more transmissible than any previous strain of the COVID 19 virus," Kenney said.
The premier also introduced new mandatory measures which will take effect on Dec. 24. The changes include:
- 50 per cent capacity limit at venues that seat more than 1,000 people. For venues with capacity of between 500 and 1,000 occupants, 500 is the limit. There is no impact on venues under 500.
- No food or drink consumption in seated audience settings or during intermissions in the above-mentioned venues, including NHL games.
- Maximum table capacity of 10 people in restaurants, pubs and bars. No mingling between tables.
- No interactive activities at restaurants, pubs and bars (e.g., dancing, darts and billiards).
- Restaurants, pubs and bars must stop liquor service at 11 p.m., and close at 12:30 a.m.
"It's important that the overall numbers of people mixing in venues be limited and that attendees remain masked at all times," Kenney said.
"This change will apply, for example, to NHL games, as well as the World Junior Tournament set to begin on Boxing Day.
"We need to avoid super spreader events."
Kenney also asked Albertans to see fewer people over the holiday season.
"Please consider limiting your social contact over the holidays by at least 50 per cent," he said. "Look at going to one family dinner instead of two."
Kenney was joined by Health Minister Jason Copping and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health.
Omicron variant taking off
"In the next few weeks, we will see transmission rise to heights we have never seen before," Hinshaw said. "We don't know what that will do to our health-care system.
"If you were debating what to do with a gathering, I advise taking the most cautious approach possible."
Hinshaw said she believes the situation is so severe that her family cancelled their holiday plans.
Omicron is now the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the province and community transmission is taking off, Hinshaw said.
"This means if someone tests positive for COVID-19 they should assume they have the Omicron variant. It has spread faster and farther than any variants we have ever seen.
"I know that facing a new variant right as the holidays began after two years of constant change, uncertainty and sacrifice is almost unbearable. To think about having to change holiday plans last minute, especially after having no gatherings last year, is unfair."
Alberta reported 786 new cases Tuesday, bringing the number of active cases to 6,045, while the number of Omicron cases climbed to 1,609 from 1,045 on Monday.
There are 329 people in hospital with the disease, including 69 in intensive care units.
There have been 3,294 deaths from COVID-19 in Alberta since the pandemic began.
Copping said he is working with Alberta Health Services on plans to restore surge capacity at hospitals in the province.
"We know that with the emergence of Omicron in the province, there is the potential for our healthcare system to once again be severely stressed."
Alberta is also racing to restock pharmacy shelves after its rollout of rapid antigen test kits got off to a bumpy start Friday.
The province has two million more tests on hand that will be distributed in the coming days, and another one million additional tests with confirmed shipping dates later this month, said AHS spokesperson Lisa Glover. The province is also buying 10 million kits privately to be available to Albertans in January.
If a specific location does not have kits available, Albertans are encouraged to look online for additional locations.