Edmonton

Holiday gatherings hinge on public following COVID-19 rules, Jason Kenney says

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says if COVID-case numbers don’t come down by mid-December, people won’t be allowed to visit friends and family outside their immediate households during the holiday season.

Kenney's Facebook Live on Wednesday night gets 2,500 comments

Premier Jason Kenney fields questions from the public during a Facebook live chat Wednesday evening on Alberta's new COVID-19 restrictions. (Jason Kenney/Facebook)

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says if COVID-19 case numbers don't come down by mid-December, people won't be allowed to visit friends and family outside their immediate households during the holiday season.

It was one question Kenney addressed during a one-hour Facebook Live session Wednesday night, one day after his government announced several new restrictions on gatherings and businesses.

"In terms of visitors right now, we don't know," Kenney said about the holiday season.

"It is my desperate hope that we will be able to relax the rules on indoor social gatherings at Christmas time. But that's up to all of us. It's up to everyone."

Kenney said if people stop socializing, follow physical distancing in public and stay at home if they're sick, he thinks case numbers will drop and social gathering limits could be relaxed for the holidays.

The UCP government and the chief medical officer of health will meet in three weeks to discuss whether to extend the new restrictions announced on Tuesday, Kenney said.

Regardless, he suggested people shouldn't plan to have big gatherings over the holidays. 

6 to a table

Kenney fielded questions during the Facebook Live from more than 2,500 comments that included requests for clarification about new rules for dining, bars, casinos and group fitness classes.

The government is capping the number of people eating in a restaurant or pub to six people at a table — and diners must be from the same immediate household. 

But restaurant and pub owners have expressed concern about having to regulate that rule. 

Mariel Montero Sena, co-owner of Huma Mexican Comfort restaurant in the Argyll area, said it will be difficult to determine whether people arriving to dine are from the same household. 

"I think as a restaurant owner, that's going to be a little bit tricky," Sena said on CBC's Radio Active Tuesday afternoon. 

It's an important rule for everybody to be aware of to get numbers down again, she added.

Another pub owner who joined the Facebook Live raised the same issue. 

"There's no expectation that restaurant staff or managers are going to enforce who's in the group," Kenney said. "Obviously there's a degree of trust we're having that people are going to limit to their household group." 

Other Facebook Live participants questioned why the UCP government is allowing restaurants and pubs to remain open at all. 

Kenney said Alberta Health could trace only one per cent of COVID-19 transmissions back to bars and restaurants, also noting they employ 175,000 people. 

But Alberta Health Services data also shows more than half of new cases in Alberta reported in the past week came from unknown origins.

Vaccine not mandatory

Alberta won't make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory, Kenney said on Wednesday after being asked to clarify the government's position.

"We're not going to strap people down to force them to be injected with a vaccine. I think the very idea is ridiculous," Kenney said.

The government and health authorities will still encourage people to get inoculated, he added.

"The more people who use it, the better off we're all going to be."

Kenney noted three companies have said they have developed effective vaccines but that Canada may not receive the vaccine until January. 

He said Alberta may be able to vaccinate 10 per cent of its population by the end of next March. 

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