With summer just around the corner, the provincial government is hoping rising vaccination rates will lead to an end of Covid-19 public health measures by the end of June.
Premier Jason Kenney announced Alberta’s three-step plan to fully reopen during a press conference May 26.
“The last 15 months have been incredibly tough,” Premier Kenney said. “It’s been a time filled with sacrifices and loss, adapting to sudden changes, and continuing on life in a different way. Today, we are truly near the end of this thing.”
The government is confident the time to implement a reopening plan is appropriate given decreasing Covid indicators.
Case numbers have decreased by more than half since the province ordered a three-week lockdown, with just over 12,000 active cases reported May 25. The transmission rate has dropped from 1.13 to 0.67, and hospitalizations have shrunk from nearly 800 to 548 with 187 ICU admissions now totaling 157.
The biggest factor, however, has been the high number of vaccinations distributed in the province. 2.55 million doses have now been administered.
“Thanks to these doses, the end of the pandemic is within our reach here in Alberta,” said minister of health Tyler Shandro.
The minister also encouraged people who had been vaccinated to “be public, be proud about it” in order to use their sphere of influence to help those not yet vaccinated get the shot. Minister Shandro encouraged those who are hesitant about vaccination to speak to their doctor or pharmacist and access information from trusted sources.
“Please, reach out and ask the questions you have. Get the correct information that you require. More than ever, we need you to take action,” he said. “We need all of us to take action together. The speed of our reopening depends on it.”
The province’s three-step reopening is based primarily on first-dose vaccination rates for eligible Albertans (those aged 12 and up) and hospitalization numbers. Adjusted health measures will apply to the entire province.
The province will begin easing restrictions two weeks after 50 per cent of Albertans 12 and over have received at least one dose and Covid-19 hospitalizations are below 800 and decreasing. Since the province hit the 50 per cent vaccination mark in the middle of May, Step 1 is set to start June 1. Maintaining two-metre physical distancing and wearing a mask indoors is still required.
Up to ten people will be permitted to gather outdoors; indoor social gatherings are still prohibited.
Outdoor patio dining can resume with a maximum of four people from the same household per table. A person living alone can dine with two close contacts.
Physical, performance and recreational activities are permitted outdoors with up to ten people distanced. No age restrictions apply.
Retail can increase to 15 per cent of fire code occupancy, though stores must maintain physical distancing. Personal and wellness services are allowed to open by appointment only.
Wedding ceremonies may have up to ten people total, including the officiant, couple, witnesses and any photographers/videographers. Funeral ceremonies may have up to 20 attendees, not including facility staff, funeral clergy or organizers not considered guests. Wedding and funeral receptions remain prohibited.
As an exception to the June 1 date, places of worship can accept 15 per cent of building fire code occupancy as of May 28.
Two weeks after 60 per cent of Albertans 12 and over have received at least one dose of the vaccine and hospitalizations are below 500 and declining, more restrictions will be lifted. According to current vaccine bookings, the province expects Step 2 to begin mid-June. Physical distancing and indoor mask use will still be required, and indoor social gatherings remain prohibited.
Outdoor social gatherings will increase to 20 people. Wedding ceremonies will also increase to 20 total participants and funerals will remain at 20 people not including facility staff, funeral clergy or organizers. Wedding and funeral receptions are only permitted outdoors.
Restaurants will be able to seat tables with up to six people, indoors or outdoors, and dining parties will no longer be restricted to households only.
Retail capacity and places of worship will increase to one-third of fire code occupancy while following physical distancing guidelines.
Gyms and other indoor fitness will be allowed to open for solo and drop-in activities with three-metre distancing between participants. Fitness classes may resume with three-metre distancing.
Personal and wellness services can resume walk-in services, and post-secondary institutions can resume in-person learning during Step 2.
Indoor settings such as arenas, cinemas, theatres, museums, art galleries and libraries will be able to open with up to one-third of fire code occupancy. Indoor and outdoor youth and adult sports will be permitted to resume with no restrictions.
Youth activities, like day camps and play centres, will be able to resume with restrictions.
The work-from-home order will also be lifted, though will still be recommended.
Outdoor fixed seating facilities (like grandstands) can open with one-third seated capacity. Public outdoor events will increase to 150 people with restrictions.
The final phase in Alberta’s reopening plan will take effect two weeks after 70 per cent of Albertans aged 12 and over have received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine. Current vaccination trends and bookings leaves government officials optimistic the final step will be entered into before July.
Once in Step 3, all restrictions will be lifted, including the ban on indoor social gatherings. The only public health measures that will continue to apply will be isolation requirements for confirmed Covid-19 cases and protective measures for continuing care centres and hospitals.
International travel will remain under the federal government’s jurisdiction.
For now, Albertans are encouraged to continue following public health measures and to schedule a time to receive their vaccination. Sustained reopening centres on the population becoming fully vaccinated, which for the vaccines currently available means receiving two doses to prevent future spread of Covid-19.
Provincial transmission will continue to be monitored throughout the reopening, and a step may be paused to respond to trends at regional or provincial levels.
Minister of jobs, economy and innovation Doug Schweitzer also announced during the press release the extension of the abated collection of tourism levies from hotels and short-term rental hosts. The levy will be collected again in July.
The Small and Medium Enterprise Relaunch Grant has also had its deadline extended to the end of June.
Alberta businesses, co-operatives and non-profit organizations with less than 500 employees that have faced restrictions and have experienced revenue losses of at least 30 per cent are eligible for $10,000, following the previous intake that provided $20,000.
“I hope this is the last time you hear me coming up to this podium to talk about business supports and grants related to Covid-19,” Minister Schweitzer said.
Eligibility and information on Covid-19 supports is available at https://www.alberta.ca/biz-connect.aspx. The three-step reopening plan is available online at https://www.alberta.ca/enhanced-public-health-measures.aspx.
Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze