Edmonton

Unvaccinated adults can attend indoor holiday gatherings, Kenney says

Alberta will allow unvaccinated adults to attend indoor private holiday gatherings despite the threat posed by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, Premier Jason Kenney said Wednesday.

Premier introduces new rules as Alberta heads into 2nd pandemic Christmas

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said most provinces are allowing larger indoor private gatherings, while Alberta is sticking to 10 adults. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

Alberta will allow unvaccinated adults to attend indoor private holiday gatherings despite the threat posed by the highly transmissible Omicron variant, Premier Jason Kenney said Wednesday.

The change is effective immediately, Kenney said as he unveiled new measures in the province's fight against COVID-19, including expanded availability of booster shots and rapid antigen testing kits.

Under previous rules, unvaccinated individuals were not permitted to attend any private indoor gatherings because of the risk of transmitting the virus.

Alberta has also lifted a restriction limiting indoor private gatherings to a maximum of 10 adults from two households. The limit of 10 adults remains, but there is no longer any restriction on how many households they can be from. There are no limits on those under 18.

Kenney defended the relaxation of rules around gatherings at the same time he warned Albertans about the "extraordinarily high rate of transmission" seen with Omicron.

As of Wednesday, 60 cases of Omicron had been identified in the province.

"Emerging real-world evidence suggests that Omicron is more infectious and is causing more breakthrough infections," Kenney said.

But he said Alberta has been an "outlier" among provinces in preventing unvaccinated people from attending indoor private gatherings.

As of Wednesday, 85 per cent of Albertans aged 12 and older have received at least two doses of vaccine. That equates to 72.3 per cent of the overall population.

'Unvaccinated aunt'

Kenney stressed a need to "balance out people's mental and emotional health," particularly as Alberta heads into a second Christmas during the pandemic.

"If there's one small thing we can do that takes away another reason for division with families arguing about having the unvaccinated aunt over for Christmas dinner, for example — if we can instead put that decision back to individual families, how they can be COVID-careful.

"They can use rapid testing, for example, if they're having family gatherings," he said. 

Kenney said most provinces are allowing larger indoor private gatherings, while Alberta is sticking to 10 adults.

WATCH | Alberta's new rules:

New rules as Alberta heads into second pandemic Christmas

5 months ago
Duration 2:14
Premier Jason Kenney unveiled new measures in the province's fight against COVID-19, including expanded availability of booster shots and rapid antigen testing kits.

"This still keeps us with the most stringent rules but at the same time we have to be mindful, after 21 months of this, of the willingness of the public to actually comply with the rules," he said.

"Rules on paper that are not observed by the public are meaningless, pointless and just undermine confidence in the public health measures.

"So the reality is that families are going to be gathering for Christmas. We want people to be mindful of and to follow these rules. We feel like this is a more realistic approach."

Need for caution

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said the recent emergence of Omicron shows the need to be "extremely cautious" as health experts learn more about the new variant.

"Early evidence indicates that it may be less likely to cause severe outcomes than previous variants but with a larger number of people getting infected much more quickly, the overall impact on ICUs is still rising in other parts of the world where Omicron is spreading fast," she said. 

Alberta Health said Tuesday evening that two of the 50 Omicron cases in the province are of unknown origin and are suspected to be from community transmission. Most of the cases, 27, are in the Calgary zone.

More than 500,000 rapid antigen test kits will be available at pharmacies starting Friday, Kenney said. Making testing kits more widely available will help provide an extra layer of defence against the virus, and bring "peace of mind" to families trying to limit transmission, he said.

Effective immediately, up to 700,000 more Albertans — everyone aged 50 and older, and all health-care workers — will be able to book third doses of mRNA vaccines, as long as they had their second doses six months ago or longer.

The temporary state of public health emergency expired as of Tuesday, but all other current public health measures remain in effect, including mandatory masking in indoor public places.

Outdoor social gathering capacity remains at 20 people, regardless of vaccination status. Physical distancing between households is required.

Alberta health officials also reported 250 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and eight new deaths from the illness.The province's COVID-19 related death total now stands at 3,283.

There are now 4,016 active cases across the province. There are 366 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 70 in intensive care.

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