EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has introduced new restrictions, including a two-week ban on indoor group sports and fitness classes, to arrest a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Kenney also says restaurants, pubs, and bars won’t be allowed to serve liquor after 10 p.m. and must close at 11 in areas with high case counts because too many are transforming into late-night-party COVID spreader zones.
He also renewed a call for people to not host gatherings in their homes in high case count areas and says if they don’t, the government may have to step in with enforcement and fines.
“This two-week push is, I believe, our last chance to avoid more restrictive measures that I and most Albertans desperately want to avoid,” Kenney said Thursday.
He said 40 per cent of cases can be traced to transmission at home and social gatherings.
“I don’t think it’s unreasonable for people to suspend these kinds of gatherings for the time being,” he said. “No one wants to have a government tell us how many people we can have in our homes.”
Kenney also announced he is isolating for a second time in the last month after coming in close contact with someone who had contracted COVID-19. He said he had been tested and was waiting for the result.
Alberta has been seeing 600 or more new COVID cases a day for more than a week. On Thursday, Kenney announced 860 new cases for a total active case count of 8,300. There are 225 people in hospital, including 51 in intensive care. There have been 393 deaths.
The premier noted that daily cases, hospitalizations and COVID-19 patients receiving intensive care are all more than double what they were at the height of the first wave of the pandemic last spring.
"We can't afford to wait," he said.
"It's almost certain that we've not yet seen the peak of the current increase."
The new measures begin Friday and run to Nov. 27. They apply to Edmonton, Calgary, Grande Prairie, Lethbridge, Fort McMurray and Red Deer.
Singing, dancing and theatre groups will also have to take a break.
In high contact zones, a maximum of 50 people can attend wedding or funeral ceremonies. All faith-based activities are asked to limit attendance to one-third capacity.
Employers in office settings are asked to implement rules where they can to keep employees working at home.
Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Kenney is continuing to fail Albertans on COVID-19.
Notley cited the failure to adequately ramp up COVID-19 contact tracers and not giving enough data for Albertans to gain a true picture of what’s happening.
“This government has blown past its previously stated (health directive) triggers by 50 per cent and only now are we getting the most limited of actions,” said Notley.
“We have no way of knowing if that will be enough given that we don’t have all the information.
“Today the premier says the virus is starting to win. That’s because he has been refusing to put up a fight.”
Earlier Thursday, more than 430 Alberta doctors and three major health unions urged Kenney to introduce more stringent, short-term measures to reduce the effect on the health system.
The physicians, in a public letter, urged a shutdown of indoor dining, bars, theatres and religious services.
Kenney has resisted calls to shutter businesses, particularly retailers and restaurants, saying that getting Alberta through the crisis and beyond means balancing health, the economy and the community.
Susan Slade, vice-president of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, said there are COVID-19 outbreaks at 38 sites where her members work, and that concerns for their health and safety are growing.
There are outbreaks in nine acute-care hospitals and at least 20 long-term care homes and supportive living facilities, including the South Terrace Continuing Care Centre in Edmonton.
Alberta Health Services has reported 72 active cases and 11 deaths among residents and 68 active cases among staff at South Terrace.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 12, 2020.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press