Alberta to impose tough new restrictions in bid to curb soaring COVID-19 infection rates

The Alberta government will order the closure of all casinos and gyms, ban dine-in service at restaurants and bars, and impose a mandatory provincewide mask requirement under new restrictions aimed at curbing the province’s soaring COVID-19 infection rates, a leaked internal government document obtained by CBC News shows.

The province will also ban all outdoor and indoor social gatherings, and impose mandatory work-from-home measures, the document says.

Premier Jason Kenney is expected to announce the new measures at a news conference this afternoon.

Both the masking mandate and the ban on social gatherings will take effect immediately. The work-from-home measures — and other new restrictions — will go into effect at midnight on Sunday. Farms are excluded from the mask mandate.

Indoor and outdoor social close contact will be limited to those in the same household; while people who live alone may still have up to two non-household close contacts.

The ban on gatherings includes those in indoor workplaces, for example in lunchrooms. Workplace meetings will still be allowed but in-person attendance, under the restrictions, will be limited to the extent possible and physical distancing should be followed.

The document says the mandatory restrictions will be in place for at least four weeks.

The restrictions do not apply to service visits from caregivers, health- or child-care providers, or co-parenting arrangements.

Retail businesses, as of Sunday, will be allowed to remain open but must reduce capacity to 15 per cent of the occupancy allowed under the fire code. Places of worship will face the same restriction. 

Other new measures taking effect at midnight Sunday include the closure of all:

  • Restaurants, pubs, bars, lounges and cafes to in-person service. Only takeout, curbside pickup and delivery services will be permitted.
  • Casinos, bingo halls, gaming entertainment centres, racing entertainment centres, horse tracks, raceways, bowling alleys, pool halls, legions and private clubs.
  • Recreational facilities such as fitness centres, recreation centres, pools, spas, gyms, studios, camps, indoor rinks and arenas.
  • Libraries, science centres, interpretive centres, museums, galleries, amusement parks and water parks.
  • Businesses offering personal and wellness services such as hair salons, nail salons, tattoo parlours and massage businesses.

Funerals and wedding ceremonies will be limited to 10 people.

Regulated health services such as physiotherapy, social or protective services, shelters for vulnerable persons, emergency services and soup kitchens can remain open for in-person attendance.

Hotels may remain open but must follow all relevant restrictions. Outdoor recreation is permitted but facilities with indoor space will be closed except for the washrooms.

Escalating caseloads

Kenney will be joined at the news conference by Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

The news conference is set to begin at 4 p.m. MT.

CBC News will carry the news conference live here.

Tuesday’s update comes amid escalating caseloads and growing anxiety about the health-care system’s capacity to cope.

During her briefing Monday, Hinshaw warned that additional restrictions would be necessary to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“I will be blunt — so far we are not bending the curve back down,” Hinshaw told reporters Monday.

“We are still witnessing very high transmission of the virus, which is putting enormous pressure on our hospitals, intensive care units and health-care workers.”

Hinshaw said the numbers would have been worse without existing restrictions, but said she was preparing new, tougher health measures for the Kenney government to consider.

The province surpassed 20,000 active cases of COVID-19 on Monday, and reported 16 more deaths, including four on the same day in the same Edmonton care centre.

That brought the death toll to 631 since the pandemic began in March. Across the province, 609 people were being treated in hospitals for the illness on Monday, including 108 in ICU beds.

Alberta’s daily case counts have been over 1,000 a day since Nov. 24 and over 1,600 a day for almost a week. Alberta has the highest rate of new infections of any province.

Kenney last announced new COVID rules on Nov. 24. They were due to be reviewed next week.

Those measures included restrictions on businesses that were designed to keep them open while reducing spread of the coronavirus. A provincewide ban was introduced on gatherings inside homes, beyond those who live there. Exceptions were made for people who live alone.

Hinshaw said Monday it’s difficult to pinpoint why the restrictions didn’t bend the curve, adding it’s always a combination of the rules themselves and of people’s willingness and ability to follow them.

She said Monday she was preparing a new set of recommendations for Kenney’s COVID-19 oversight team, a subcommittee of cabinet.

“I do believe we do need additional restrictions in order to bring our case numbers down and protect our health-care system,” she said.

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