Alberta students K-12 to move online, patios and salons closed, fines increased under new COVID-19 measures

WATCH LIVE: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney will speak at 6:02 p.m. to announce new COVID-19 public health measures

Moving K-12 students to at-home learning, closing patios and salons, and increasing fines for rulebreakers are among the new COVID-19 measures announced by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney on Tuesday.

“We must act now to stop the spike,” he said in a live television address.

“From day one, our goals have been to avoid large-scale loss of life to keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed while minimizing the damage of restrictions on our broader society.”

Students from K-12 will move to online learning starting on Friday and won’t return to classrooms until May 25.

Starting immediately, restaurants must close patios. Take-out and delivery remains permitted. Personal wellness services, such as salons and tattoo parlours, must close as well.

Retail stores will have to limit capacity to 10 per cent of their fire code or allow a minimum of five people.

Companies that have reported outbreaks must close for 10 days, although there is an exception for critically essential businesses.

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Post-secondary schools must also move online.

Capacity at places of worship is limited to 15 people and funeral services to 10 people.

Outdoor social gatherings will be capped at 5 people, down from 10.

These measures are to be in place for the next three weeks.

Kenney said the basic fine has been increased from $1,000 to $2,000 while the most severe fine remains at $100,000.

The restrictions are the most severe measures the province has implemented since March last year, and come as Alberta has the highest number of new COVID-19 cases per week of any province or state in North America and the highest number of active cases by population of any province in Canada.

On Tuesday, Alberta reported 1,743 new infections, bringing the total number of active cases to a new record of 23,623, and nine additional deaths.

Alberta leads the country with the highest active per-capita rate in Canada, with 534 per 100,000 people — more than double Ontario’s 251 per 100,000 people. Variants represent 62.3 per cent of Alberta’s cases. The province currently has an 11.19 per cent positivity rate.

Kenney said the province has attempted to strike a balance through targeted approaches to restrictions so as not to impact businesses too much.

“The good news is we have vaccines on our side,” he said. “They are already working wonders. We will be able to vaccine all Albertans over the age of 16 very soon.”

Kenney will take questions from the media at a 10 a.m. news conference. He will be joined by Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and Justice Minister Kaycee Madu.

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Earlier Tuesday, more than 50 Alberta doctors and nurses signed an open letter to Kenney calling for stricter restrictions to slow the spread of the virus.

The group warned that if the province didn’t institute strict public health measures similar to those implemented in the first wave, thousands of Albertans of all ages will become seriously ill, maximizing the numbers of those with long-term disabilities due to COVID-19 and crashing the hospital system.

“It is the constitutional responsibility and moral duty of the government of Alberta to protect the health and lives of Albertans as a priority,” the letter says.

“The numbers of new cases, hospitalizations and ICU admissions are rapidly increasing and have now exceeded the previous peak numbers seen last December,” it says.

The letter from doctors warns that major surgical procedures are being postponed by Alberta Health Services to reduce the need for intensive care units.

“Modelling projections, that have been extremely accurate to date, indicate that if the rate of spread is not adequately controlled soon there will be between 300 and 320 COVID patients in addition to the usual 150-174 non-COVID critically ill patients admitted to the ICUs in Alberta by the end of May,” it says.

“Although additional beds and equipment can likely be provided, it is highly doubtful that health-care workers with the necessary expertise can be made available to staff the extra ICU surge beds and provide the level of care required by critically ill patients.”

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This is not the first time doctors have raised the alarm about Alberta’s COVID-19 restrictions during the third wave of the pandemic. In April doctors with the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association (EZMSA) and the Calgary and Area Medical Staff Society (CAMSS) called for a lockdown or circuit breaker.

Trudeau offers federal assistance

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says his government reached out to the Alberta government over the weekend to offer help.

“For Alberta, we continued reaching out to the province through the weekend. We’re offering whatever help they need to get the situation under control and keep Albertans safe,” he said at a news conference Tuesday.

Shandro’s press secretary Steve Buick said in an email that the Alberta government has not asked Ottawa for help.

“We are concerned about the rise in cases and hospitalizations, but at present the number of COVID patients in hospital remains well below the peak level we experienced in December,” he said.

“AHS has plans in place to accommodate higher numbers of hospital patients than the December peak level, as well as contingency planning for extreme scenarios beyond any current estimate of the likely demands on hospital capacity.”

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References

  1. ^ Politics (edmontonjournal.com)
  2. ^ Local News (edmontonjournal.com)
  3. ^ (edmontonjournal.com)
  4. ^ ajoannou@postmedia.com (edmontonjournal.com)
  5. ^ jlabine@postmedia.com (edmontonjournal.com)
  6. ^ twitter.com/ashleyjoannou (twitter.com)
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