Canada's Alberta province toughens COVID-19 restrictions

COVID-19 vaccinations at a Sikh Gurudwara in Mississauga, Ontario

By Steve Scherer and Nia Williams

OTTAWA/CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) -The Canadian province of Alberta will increase restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 as a third wave of the pandemic threatens to overwhelm the hospital system within weeks, Premier Jason Kenney said on Tuesday.

Stricter measures include confining schools to online learning, ordering workplaces with COVID-19 outbreaks to close for 10 days, closing salons, allowing restaurants to offer takeout service only and reducing the number of people allowed at funerals and religious services.

Alberta, the center of Canada's energy industry, has the highest per capita rate of COVID-19 cases in the country and follows Ontario and Quebec in beefing up restrictions.

"If you can stay home, please stay home," Kenney told a news conference.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Tuesday the federal government was offering whatever help the province needed to get the situation under control and keep Albertans safe.

Alberta's tougher measures come on the same day Canada's Tourism Minister Melanie Joly said the country is working with international partners to develop a standardized vaccine certification for travel.

Canada currently has a higher infection rate than the United States as it rolls out vaccines during a third wave. The country has fully inoculated only 3% of its almost 38 million people, though more than 34% have received a first dose and millions of doses are arriving each week.

"Clearly as vaccination is being rolled out, we will position ourself as a safe destination," Joly said in a telephone interview after attending a virtual meeting with her G20 counterparts earlier in the day.

Canada's land border with the United States has been closed to non-essential travel since March 2020, and those arriving by plane must be tested and quarantine themselves.

The third wave gripping the country now has dimmed the hopes of airlines and the tourism sector for renewed travel this summer.

(Reporting by Steve Scherer; Editing by David Gregorio)