Alberta adopts new targeted public health measures as COVID-19 cases surge
Schools to move online, indoor gyms to be closed in most major cities
As the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic set new records on Thursday, Alberta's premier announced targeted public-health measures intended to slow the spread of the disease.
The province reported 2,048 new cases on Thursday, the highest single-day total since the pandemic began in March 2020. Premier Jason Kenney warned Albertans that if the curve continues to rise, more stringent measures, including curfews, might be necessary.
Starting Friday, the province will implement targeted measures for hot spots across the province where there are more than 350 active cases per 100,000 people and at least 250 total active cases, Kenney said at a news conference.
The list of targeted communities includes Edmonton, Calgary, Fort McMurray, Red Deer, Grande Prairie, Airdrie, Lethbridge and Strathcona County.
All junior and senior high schools in the targeted communities will move to at-home learning starting Monday, though some had already shifted to online learning.
Indoor fitness and indoor sports will be shut down effective Friday. The mandatory restrictions will remain in effect for a minimum of two weeks, Kenney said.
"Where needed, we will implement a curfew where case rates are significantly high, specifically if cases are 1,000 or more per 100,000 population, and in cases where the municipal government requests it."
People who don't comply with health measures now risk being unable to renew their driver's licence or complete other transactions at registry services if they don't pay their fines, he said.
"This is for the people who aren't taking the pandemic seriously and continue to put others at risk by not following the public health orders in place."
Rise in cases
The number of active cases hit 21,385 on Thursday, an increase of 447 from the day before. During the second wave, active cases in the province peaked at 20,976 on Dec. 13.
Another 1,329 cases of highly contagious variants of concern were also reported. Variants now account for 62 per cent of all active cases in the province.
Alberta hospitals were treating 632 patients with COVID-19, a slight decline from the day before. There were 151 patients in ICU beds, an increase of six.
"I wanted to take a moment to underscore the gravity of the situation that we're in today, and how bad things could get if Albertans don't make a real effort in the next few weeks," Kenney said.
"All I can say is that I don't want to be standing here two weeks from now having to bring in something like a hard lockdown on Alberta, that we've managed to avoid as a province in the last year, because people don't respond to this call."
'We can get past this'
The vast majority of transmission continues to happen at home and through social activity, he said.
"I once again call on all Albertans, please, if you need to, go back and study once again what the restrictions are that are in place. Please follow them so we do not have to come in with yet another round of even tougher restrictions.
"If Albertans take this seriously — and I think that more stringent measures like this can at least get people's attention, that this really matters — and if people follow what we're calling them to do, especially in those areas where there is a surge in cases right now, we can get past this and let the vaccine start to beat the variants, I think by a month from now."
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The Alberta government implemented a previous round of restrictions on businesses and public gatherings three weeks ago, in an effort to keep the caseload from swamping the health-care system.