Alberta restricts indoor dining, fitness and retail

·3 min read

Premier Jason Kenney said Albertans have a “moral obligation” to protect the most vulnerable people in the province as he announced new COVID-19 restrictions and a streamlined vaccination plan.

During Tuesday’s COVID-19 update, Kenney said the number of people who have been vaccinated is lower than initially projected. He added the province will boost efforts to encourage Albertans to get vaccinated as more people become eligible for immunization against the virus.

Alberta Health is working with healthcare providers, such as family doctors and pharmacists, to make sure everyone has access to the latest and most accurate vaccine information.

Rapid flow vaccination centre at MacDonald Island Park can handle large volumes of people within a short time period. Similar centres are now open in Grande Prairie, Edmonton, Red Deer, Calgary, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat

Alberta Health Services says MacDonald Island Park has 10 vaccination stations, but will be able to double that number as more vaccines arrive in the community. Once that happens, 1,285 people will be able to be vaccinated daily.

Pharmacies will soon have walk-in booking for anyone eligible for the vaccine.

By late June, 64 per cent of Albertans will have some level of protections either from natural immunity or vaccination. At that point, Kenney said the government will consider lifting most public health restrictions.

“There is no question that vaccination is our ticket out of this,” said Kenney. “We were getting carried up by this wave against our will but we determine how we land.”

Alberta averaged roughly 1,000 new cases daily during the Easter long weekend and the death toll has surpassed 2,000 people. The province has closed indoor dining, limited the number of people allowed in retail spaces and put restrictions on fitness.

Kenney acknowledged the restrictions will be unpopular among people, including within the UCP caucus. UCP MLAs Drew Barnes and Angela Pitt have publicly opposed further public health measures. Kenney argued current measures would have been enough if people followed them, but "COVID fatigue" encouraged non-compliance.

During the past year, Kenney said it has been a struggle balancing strict public health measures and a “safe common ground that can unite most Albertans.”

“It’s no secret I’ve been wrestling with finding this balance and there is no easy or simple formula to do so,” said Kenney. “What causes me to support measures like the ones we’re announcing today is my belief in the sanctity of human life.”

When asked if his government has made mistakes during the past year, Kenney said it was "stupid" to close local small businesses while letting big box stores remain open during the pandemic's first wave.

“That was an unfair application,” said Kenney. “The risk associated with retail is not different based on the size of the store or the nature of what it sells.”

Another mistake was restricting access to drug recovery programs, such as heroin replacement programs, and group meetings like Narcotics Anonymous and Alcoholics Anonymous.

“By suspending all of those things, I think that sadly accelerated the overdose crisis in the spring,” said Kenney.

Kenney said he does not regret easing provincial restrictions at the end of the second wave. Allowing businesses to open during these past few weeks has let some businesses earn revenue and keep people employed, he said.

“I think that would be preferable to the foolish consistency of a prolonged closure of a lot of business,” said Kenney. “I wish the virus operated in a simple, predictable straight line, but it doesn’t.”

swilliscraft@postmedia.com

Sarah Williscraft, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort McMurray Today