Jason Kenney’s Alberta government announced the province’s plan to ease COVID-19 public health restrictions.
“The last two years have taken a significant toll on Albertans’ overall health, social and economic well-being,” a statement from Kenney reads. “Now that we are through the worst of the fifth wave and have achieved high vaccination rates, it is time to shift to a balanced approach where we are able to live with COVID-19 and return to normal.”
Effective Feb. 8 at 11:59 p.m. local time, Alberta has removed the Restrictions Exemption Program.
“In Canada right now, vaccinated people are almost as likely as unvaccinated people to experience a breakthrough infection,” Kenney said at a press conference on Tuesday, adding that vaccines are “hugely effective" at preventing severe outcomes.
“A program originally designed to reduce transmission amongst unvaccinated people doesn’t make sense in a context where we have such a high level of breakthrough infections.”
The premier added that the only way a proof of vaccination program would make “practical sense” is if there was a requirement for the public to get a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but stressed that only 43 per cent of the eligible population in Alberta has that third shot.
“That’s 60 per cent of the population that would not be eligible to participate in discretionary activities, and then what happens if we see, six or 12 months from now, waning protection from breakthrough infections from a third shot,” Kenney said. “Would we then modify the program to require that people have a fourth shot?”
“I think it’s quite likely that for the rest of our lives, we’re probably going to need to take an annual COVID shot, much like the annual flu shot… This could become a permanent feature of our lives, I think that’s completely implausible.”
Also as of Feb. 8 at 11:59 p.m., capacity limits have been removed for venues under 500 capacity, including libraries and places of worship. Albertans are allowed to consume food and drinks in seated audience settings at large event and entertainment venues. Existing restrictions on closing times, alcohol service, table capacity in restaurants and interactive activities remain.
Venues with capacity of 500 to 1,000 people are limited to 500, and venues with capacity over 1,000 are limited to 50 per cent.
Effective Feb. 14, mandatory masking for children in schools and for kids age 12 and under will come to an end, for all settings.
Beginning March 1, Alberta will make the following changes to its restrictions, based on hospitalizations continuing to decrease:
Provincial mask mandate will be removed
Mandatory work from home removed
Limits on social gatherings will be removed
Capacity limits will be lifted for all venues
Remaining provincial school requirements (including cohorting) will be removed
Screening prior to youth activities will no longer be required
While there is no specific date outlined by the Alberta government for additional easing of rules, the March 1 changes will be followed by COVID-19 measures in continuing care settings removed and mandatory isolation will become a “recommendation.”
“We are at a stage where it’s clear our vaccine numbers, our first and second dose, are frozen,” premier Kenney said. “We’re just stating the obvious and acting on that.”
Criticism after comparing HIV/AIDS to COVID-19
The premier said that one of the things that concerns him most is the “division” and “polarization” during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to differing opinions on policies, including vaccination. He said “protests” and reaction to these demonstrations is an example of those divisions.
“People saying, 'well I don't want to go to a restaurant and have to sit next to somebody who's unvaccinated,' that sentiment deeply concerns me,” the premier said. “Treating fellow people as those they are somehow unclean.”
Kenney went on to say “stigmatiz[ing]” people who are are unvaccinated reminds him of the “attitudes” that circulated about people with HIV/AIDS, specifically in the 1980s.
“There's this notion that they had to be kind of distanced for health reasons,” the premier said.
WATCH: Jason Kenney invited us to look at his record - so we did. Anyone who brags about barring people from saying their final goodbyes to their loved ones in hospital is just not fit to be Premier. #ableg #abvote pic.twitter.com/XBNgfGsPCI
— Alberta's NDP (@albertaNDP) March 20, 2019
Several people took to social media to call out the premier for this comparison, with several individuals calling out Kenney's history of working to overturn the first same-sex spousal law in North America.
Jason Kenney campaigned to seperate those dying from AIDS from their spouses. This was one of the most galling moments in today’s news conference. https://t.co/MdfXc0mE94
— Rachel Notley (@RachelNotley) February 9, 2022
Premier Jason Kenney just compared public opinions towards unvaccinated people to how people treated those with HIV and AIDs in 1980s. Kenney fought to prevent partners of AIDS/HIV victims from hospital visits when he was federal citizenship minister. #abpoli #ableg #covid19AB
— Paula Tran 陳寶拉 (@paulatr12) February 9, 2022
Jason Kenney, who proudly kept men from their dying partners during the AIDS crisis, just tried to compare wanting to know that everyone else in the restaurant has also done their part to stop the spread, to discrimination during the AIDS crisis.
I can’t even… #AbLeg
— Kathleen Ganley (@KathleenGanley) February 9, 2022
Kenney just compared the divisiveness over covid and demonization of nonvaccinated Albertans with the 1980s demonization of those with HIV/aids. Kenney said that! The Kenney who was at the forefront of demonizing those with HIV/aids in the 1980s. See San Francisco.
— Duane Bratt (@DuaneBratt) February 9, 2022
— Shayla Breen (they/her) (@shayla_yeg) February 9, 2022
Is he really comparing HIV patients with people who are unvaccinated? That's just vile.
Might not want to bring up AIDS patients, Kenney. You have a pretty horrific track record there.
— Bridget Stirling (@bridgetstirling) February 9, 2022