Uncertainty meets unbridled enthusiasm as Alberta flings open the relaunch doors

An accelerated phase two relaunch plan, announced Tuesday by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, includes some steps originally designated for phase three.

Businesses and citizens alike weigh pros and cons of accelerated reboot

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney took some by surprise when he announced an accelerated and expanded phase two of the relaunch strategy. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Reactions ranged from guarded to gleeful among Alberta's citizens, businesses and organizations after the government announced its plans for an early — and expanded — phase two relaunch.

Reopening of many businesses and services was bumped up by a full week to this Friday, while some plans originally designated for the third stage of the plan were stepped up into Stage 2.

"I'm super excited because we've been closed for three months and I've been really advocating and pushing for gyms to be put into phase two in Alberta," said Shara Vigeant, owner of SVPT Fitness and Athletics in Edmonton.

Gyms and fitness centres were originally part of the province's final stage of the relaunch plan, along with concerts, casinos, bingo halls and video lottery terminals in restaurants and lounges. All got the green light to reopen June 12 as part of Stage 2.

Vigeant said the Tuesday announcement will let her get back to normal operations sooner. She plans to reopen on Monday with scheduled appointments, which will allow for proper sanitizing and physical distancing between trainers and clients. 

"So it could be the difference between me going under or not," she told CBC News.

Other facilities and organizations aren't moving quite as quickly.

The City of Edmonton is taking a more cautious approach, saying it will weigh resources, budgets and public compliance as it considers reopening recreation centres, arenas, indoor pools and libraries. 

"It might mean that reopenings will be phased in over time or currently paused for further review," stated a news release from the city. "The reopening of facilities is very complex and given the financial impacts of the pandemic, some services will not return this season." 

The issue will be discussed further on Thursday when the city's Emergency Advisory Committee meets. 

School in September?

Students and parents are still waiting to learn whether in-person classes will resume in September. An announcement is expected on Wednesday, according to the press secretary for Education Minister Adriana LaGrange. 

The premier indicated a school reopening plan is currently being considered by cabinet. 

The chair of the Edmonton Public School Board said they have been involved in discussions with the province about three possible scenarios: a full return to the classroom, a partial reopening of schools with some restrictions, and resuming the current situation of teacher-directed, at-home learning. 

Edmonton Public School Board Chair Trisha Estabrooks (Dave Bajer/CBC)

"I speak with parents every day who just want to know if there's hope on the horizon," Trisha Estabrooks said. "I do think we may be in a situation in the fall where we may have to move and be responsive to a situation where we're moving between the scenarios." 

Estabrooks said she's willing to put her trust in health experts to make the right decision. 

"When we talk about when classes will resume, we know classes are going to resume come September. It's just a matter of what that looks like," she said. 

Movie date night by next month

Kenney's announcement included eliminating the capacity restrictions for restaurants, bars, bingo halls, casinos and churches. 

For now, the Catholic church will stick with the guidelines implemented during phase one of the relaunch.

"The expansion of the attendance limit will not mean an immediate return to full churches," the church said on its website. 

"Each parish will need to determine the maximum number they can accommodate while still observing physical distancing protocols."

Singing is still forbidden due to the potential spread of respiratory droplets, and parishioners are encouraged to go outside for any after-service socializing.   

Landmark Cinemas expects its theatres will be open by early next month.

Landmark Cinemas hopes to reopen in Alberta by early July. (CNW Group/Landmark Cinemas)

"Unfortunately, things can't turn around quite that quickly," said Bill Walker, the company's CEO. 

 "Alberta is the first province in Canada to declare some specifics and an exact timeline on how and when to reopen. So that's very encouraging and we're very happy about that. 

But ultimately from a preparedness perspective, we were working toward something around July 3rd."

Walker said it will take time to call staff back to work and train them on COVID-19 protocols, such as  physical distancing, sanitizing stations and wearing masks. 

He said theatre seating would be substantially reduced and pre-assigned, to help comply with provincial guidelines. 

"You'll know where you're sitting. You'll select them in advance. So you'll have lots of physical space in front of you, behind you to the left and to the right."

Walker admitted that the movie experience, for the time being, won't include the latest summer blockbuster.

Because new releases will wait for the reopening of theatres in other major North American markets, Landmark will screen old movies and recent releases that were cut short in the theatres due to the pandemic, he said.

'It's about time' 

Among potential customers, reaction to the accelerated relaunch in Alberta is also decidedly mixed. 

"I think it's about time, probably," Coleman Wilkinson told CBC News. "You're going to have to trust people eventually. You can't keep people locked up for the entire year. People have to get back to work." 

Michael Britton said he was looking forward to some normalcy in his life after enduring months off work as a truck driver. 

Edmonton resident Michael Britton welcomes the accelerated relaunch strategy. He wants to return to the gym. (Scott Neufeld/CBC )

"It's a good thing to get back into the gym again," Britton said. "Get back into the weight room a little bit again and be able to do some cardio, get some exercise, stuff like that." 

That's exactly what made Bailey Jackson apprehensive. 

"It seems like some things are being rushed a little bit," Jackson said. "I'm a little nervous about some of the gyms and recreational facilities. I'm not too sure why they've been moved up to phase two."


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