The Alberta government has announced new supports for businesses to help them implement and enforce COVID-19 measures including the province's version of a vaccination passport.
The measures, introduced Thursday by Premier Jason Kenney, include a one-time, $2,000 implementation grant for small- and medium-sized businesses using Alberta's restriction exemption program; a $1-million fund to support training to ensure employee safety; and a doubling of fines, from $2,000 to $4,000, for individuals who mistreat public-facing workers trying to enforce it.
"We've heard instances of individuals who are not in favour of vaccinations, who are not in favour of providing that ID, going in and harassing workers on the front line in small businesses across Alberta," Doug Schweitzer, minister of jobs, economy and innovation, told the news conference.
"That's completely unacceptable. We want to send a strong signal that that type of behaviour will not be tolerated in Alberta. We cannot accept it. It's not a part of our culture. We condemn it."
The restrictions exemption program, launched on Sept. 15, allows businesses to require patrons or clients to show proof of full vaccination or a negative test for COVID-19.
Kenney said that legislation is being developed to protect businesses from legal challenges over the restrictions exemption program or for requiring workers to get vaccinated for COVID-19.
As well, QR codes that have been developed as part of the proof of vaccine documentation should be fully operational next week, he said.
In a statement, Jon Carson, NDP Service Alberta critic, said the business supports should have come much sooner.
1,254 new cases
There were 1,254 new COVID-19 cases reported in the last 24 hours on 15,600 tests for a positivity rate of 8.1 per cent, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, told the news conference.
"It is encouraging to see four days of [test-positivity] under 10 per cent, but it is much too early to declare victory," she said.
As of Thursday, 1,094 Albertans being treated for COVID-19 in hospitals, including 248 patients in intensive care units.
Hinshaw announced 13 new deaths from COVID-19. But provincial data shows 2,814 Albertans have died from the illness since the pandemic began, which would be an increase of 10 from Wednesday.
The number of active cases provincewide dropped slightly to 18,411.
Alberta's fourth wave, driven mostly by the delta variant, started in July, with active case counts and hospitalizations rapidly escalating through August and September.
Intensive care units have been overwhelmed, thousands of surgeries have been cancelled and military medical aid has been called in to ease the pressure.
As of Thursday, 52 schools have COVID-19 outbreaks — identified 10 or more cases — while 699 others were on alert status due to clusters of infection.
'Our choices matter'
With Thanksgiving coming up, Hinshaw warned Albertans to keep gatherings "as small as possible" this weekend in order to avoid another surge in cases, which could lead to more strain on the health-care system.
"Our choices matter," Hinshaw said, reiterating a message from earlier this week. "It's critically important that we all make the safest choices this weekend."
Hinshaw urged Albertans to follow public health measures and to gather safely. She suggested to meet virtually, or outdoors if meeting in person.
The provincial government is not considering stricter restrictions at this time, Kenney told reporters, citing dips in daily cases, active cases and ICU admissions.
But if there is a surge after Thanksgiving, the government may consider added measures, he said.
"The second wave of COVID, which put severe pressure on our hospitals last fall, started very clearly around the family table of millions of Alberta households Thanksgiving of last year," he said.
"We are seeing positive signs and positive trends… That is good news, but it is still very early and those gains are very tentative. They could all be lost overnight this weekend, if Albertans do not carefully follow the public health guidelines that we have put in place to protect our health-care system."