EDMONTON — Alberta is relaxing its COVID-19 rules on gathering just a teeny bit for Christmas.
Premier Jason Kenney says starting Wednesday and for the following five days a person living alone can attend one family gathering in another household.
A household may have up to two single people as guests.
It's an exception to a public health order brought in two weeks ago that bans any indoor or outdoor gatherings through the new year to try to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Alberta’s per-capita numbers are still high.
But Kenney says infection levels are such that the one-time exemption is possible.
“Any additional social contact does increase some risk of transmission, but we have to balance that off against a lot of other considerations,” Kenney told a news conference Tuesday.
“We know that Christmastime for lots of reasons is bound up with people’s emotional and mental health. We don’t want to make the already serious mental-health crisis in the province even more serious for people being completely isolated.”
Kenney brought in a stricter lockdown of the economy two weeks ago as soaring case rates threatened to overwhelm the health system. Among the changes, retail businesses were cut to a maximum of 15 per cent capacity and restaurants directed to provide only takeout or delivery.
Daily reports of new cases peaked more than a week ago at 1,887 and have been falling since. The total number of active cases was above 21,600 on Dec. 15, but has also been declining.
Alberta reported 1,021 new cases on Tuesday with 18,311 active infections.
However, the rate of hospitalizations continues to rise during the two-week incubation period. There were 802 people in hospital with COVID-19, 152 of them in intensive care. There were 11 more deaths for a total of 871.
Kenney also announced that a second shipment of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has arrived and will be given to at-risk front-line health and long-term care workers in Edmonton, Calgary, and 10 smaller municipalities.
Health Minister Tyler Shandro saidmore than 3,000 health care workers have already received their first dose of the vaccine, which requires two shots to be effective.
“It looks like we’re finally headed in the right direction here in Alberta,” said Shandro.“ (But) it’s only a first step. We need to drive the daily case count a lot lower to start to take the pressure off our hospitals.”
The province has been forced to reassign staff and space to free up more intensive care beds. It has also begun preparing a 100-bed field hospital on the University of Alberta campus as a backup.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 22, 2020
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press