Alberta lifts many public health COVID-19 restrictions; offers more second doses

·4 min read

Kelly Higgins had just finished a 45-minute, sweat-inducing high-intensity group workout at a newly reopened gym Thursday and couldn't be happier.

"It's my first class back and it feels so good, even though I feel a little out of shape," Higgins, a skin-care consultant and makeup artist in Calgary, said after being put through the paces at Functional 45.

"It's a damn good sweat," she said with a laugh.

Having spent most of the pandemic doing home workouts, Higgens said Alberta's latest relaxation of the rules is amazing.

"It means everything. It means that there's hope that this whole entire pandemic is going to be behind us."

It came the same day as Alberta expanded eligibility for second doses to about 650,000 people who received their first dose in April and reported its lowest active case count of COVID-19 since October.

There were about 3,810 active infections in the province. Of those, 178 cases were reported Thursday.

A total of 306 people are in hospital because of the virus including 81 in intensive care.

Premier Jason Kenney said the drop in cases and high vaccination rates allowed Alberta to take an important step forward in its reopening plan.

"We're here because Albertans have done their part," he said. "You have chosen to protect not only yourself and those around you, but really to protect our whole province.

"Welcome to Stage 2, Alberta."

The province's second stage of reopening required 60 per cent of those 12 and older to have had at least one vaccine shot and fewer than 500 infected patients in hospitals.

Functional 45's owner, Martin Venneri, said eased public health orders are important because the fitness industry has been totally shut down for eight of the past 15 months.

"Not only have we been looking forward to this day but our members have as well," he said.

"This is our fifth full class of the day and we still have three remaining classes. Everyone's excited. There's a lot of smiles and a lot of laughs."

Fitness centres are open for solo and drop-in activities, while indoor classes are OK with three-metre distancing. Entertainment venues, including movie theatres, casinos and museums, are being allowed to operate at one-third capacity.

Restaurants can seat up to six diners at a table inside as well as on patios. Private social gatherings outdoors can have up to 20 people.

The doors were open again Thursday at Calgary's PZA Parlour, which has been surviving with takeout and deliveries.

"It's a sign of better days ahead," said general manager Ricardo Albino. "Plus the news that maybe by the end of this month we might be able to go back to the way things were before ... that's very exciting."

He said indoor dining accounted for 70 per cent of his business before the pandemic.

"When you have in-house dining, things go further. There are drinks, oh, let's have dessert — it's a huge amount of business," Albino said.

"I think we're going to be busier than ever when we're allowed to go back to the way we were before the pandemic."

Hair salons, which had been open only for customers with appointments, can also take walk-in customers again.

"Our industry is a lot reliant on walk-in traffic," said Wendy Belanger, owner of Influence Salon in Calgary.

"There's a lot of businesses in the beauty industry where people are deciding last minute that they're going to get something done," she said. "That's where their bread and butter would come from — and all of a sudden you can't."

There are no longer any restrictions on youth and adult sports.

And up to 150 people are being allowed at public outdoor events like festivals and concerts. Grandstands for sports and other entertainment can open at one-third capacity.

At a Cineplex theatre on the north side of Edmonton, pouring rain didn't stop several people from catching an afternoon movie.

Jesse Langevin took his seven-year-old son, London, for a surprise show. As soon as the boy walked through the front doors, he turned to his dad and said he had forgotten what popcorn smelled like and that he hoped they were there to see "Godzilla vs. Kong."

"We were waiting for things to open up and now that they are, we're excited to make more plans for the summer," Langevin added.

West of the theatre, the parking lot outside the River Cree Resort and Casino was nearly full as a stream of masked patrons asked luck to give them a chance. Bells and whistles sounded from slot machines as their levers thudded up and down.

"There will be a good seven to 8,000 people that come through the gates, if not more," said CEO Vik Mahajan, adding he expects up to 10,000 people to show up on the weekend.

"I can't explain how excited I am."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2021.

Bill Graveland and Fakiha Baig, The Canadian Press

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