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Alberta rolls back reopening as variant COVID-19 cases surge

Restaurants to close indoor dining Friday at noon as Alberta returns to first phase of reopening; vaccines open for all who qualify in Phase 2B.
Jason Kenney
Premier Jason Kenney declares COVID-19 a public health emergency on March 17, 2020. GOVERNMENT OF ALBERT PHOTO

As variant COVID-19 cases continue to spike in Alberta, the province has announced it is taking a step back from reopening.

On Tuesday Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Alberta Minister of Health Tyler Shandro and Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw addressed Albertans on the variant cases driving the third wave of the pandemic in the province, and laid out projections for what the next month will look like.

Officials are anticipating daily new case counts to top 2,000 by the end of April. Kenney said around five per cent of those who contract COVID-19 today will end up in the hospital two weeks from now.

"These are short-term projections and they show that we are on track to hit a weekly average of 2,000 daily cases by the end of this month, based only on transmission that has occurred this week. And we can expect to see up to 1,000 COVID patients in hospital at the end of this month," Kenney said. 

"Even at the height of the second wave, back in December, we topped out at just under 1,900 cases a day. Now we're well on our way to exceeding that."

Variant cases have climbed from around 100 per day three weeks ago to 676 announced on Tuesday.

"Now, variants are pretty consistently over half of our new cases, over 40 per cent of our total active cases. In the race between variants and the virus, the variants are winning," Kenney said. 

On Tuesday, there were 10,809 active cases of COVID-19 in the province, which is a 27-per-cent increase in the past week. If the third wave continues without new restrictions, the premier said a third wave could threaten the maximum capacity of the health-care system by May.

“If we don’t slow down this curve, we are set to hit the maximum capacity of our system in mid-May, a great tragedy, given that it's right around mid May that we'll begin to achieve effective coverage of vaccines," Kenney said. 

In the coming weeks, almost one quarter of Albertans will have achieved immunity from the virus, Kenney said, either through a vaccine or natural immunity from an infection, and by the end of May that will jump to half the population of the province. By end of June, there will be almost two-thirds of Albertans who have some level of protection from the virus, and by mid-September, almost three-quarters of Albertans will be protected. 

"This is the end of the tunnel. It is our path to recovery. It is our path to freedom. Right now we're in a transition period, fighting to keep control of the virus just a little while longer until it is vanquished by vaccines," Kenney said. 

As more people become immune, life in Alberta can get back to normal, Kenney said, but until then the province will be rolling back into Step 1 of its reopening plan. 

Rollback to Step 1

Effective as of 11:59 p.m. on April 6, updated mandatory health measures will go into effect for retail, fitness and performance activities. At noon on Friday, April 9, restaurants will have to close indoor dining but can continue with takeout, delivery and patio services. 

Retail services must cap customer capacity at 15 per cent of fire code, indoor fitness will roll back to only one-on-one training, adult performance activities will no longer be permitted and libraries will be closed until further notice

Indoor social gatherings continue to be banned, as they are a major source of viral transmission. 

"I know that one of the most challenging restrictions has been the ban on indoor social gatherings. This has been, and it continues to be, a critical measure," Shandro said, adding Albertans are encouraged to gather outside with groups of up to 10 people while following public health measures. 

More than 2,000 lives lost

On Tuesday, the province surpassed 2,000 COVID-related deaths, after three new deaths reported to Alberta Health brought the provincial total to 2,001 since the pandemic began. 

Tuesday brought news of 931 new cases of COVID-19 diagnosed in the past 24 hours after 9,100 tests were run, for a positivity rate of 10.2 per cent. Of those new cases, 676 variants of concern were identified. 

Across Alberta, 413 schools or 17 per cent have active alerts or outbreaks. 

There are currently 328 people in the hospital with 76 of them in intensive care, which Hinshaw described as a sharp increase. 

“Its natural to be frustrated and to be sick and tired of this pandemic,” Hinshaw said.

So far 734,000 doses of vaccine have been distributed in the province. 

The province has 10,809 active cases of COVID-19. 

“Our active cases have risen by 27 per cent in last week alone," Hinshaw said. 

All 2B eligible for vaccine tomorrow

To get the vaccine out to Albertans faster as incoming shipments increase, all Albertans who are eligible in the 2B phase of the vaccine roll-out can now book their shots starting at 8 a.m. on Wednesday morning. 

Phase 2B includes Albertans born between 2005 and 1974 with underlying health conditions such as cancer, transplant patients, diabetes, dementia and other illnesses that put them at high risk for severe outcomes of COVID-19. 

People eligible during this phase can book appointments at participating pharmacies, on the AHS website or through 811.