Alberta’s premier marked the second reopening of the province during the COVID-19 pandemic on Tuesday.
It was a less extravagant affair than summer 2021, the first time Premier Jason Kenney announced Alberta would be rescinding most of its public health measures, speaking in Edmonton’s lush river valley with the capital city’s skyline behind him and a billboard at his side that read “Open for Summer.”
Instead, Tuesday morning, Kenney’s podium read “Open for Business” and he offered no guarantees about what COVID-19 would bring in the future.
“We have two choices here,” Kenney told reporters.
“We can either say we’re going to spend the rest of our lives in fear, waiting for a much more virulent mutation of COVID-19, or we can say with widespread population protection, we are determined to get on with our lives and that’s what Alberta’s choosing to do.”
At midnight, limits on social gatherings and large venue capacity, school and public masking requirements, and Alberta’s mandatory work-from-home order expired. Step 2 of Alberta’s reopening plan also ends the screening of youth for activities, other school requirements like cohorting, and restrictions on liquor service.
However, masking requirements will remain in place in high-risk settings, including at provincial health sites, continuing care centres and on public transit. And, anyone with COVID-19 symptoms or a positive test result must still isolate.
“We have finally turned a major corner on COVID-19,” Kenney declared.
“All of the data both here in Alberta and right across the world says that the worst of COVID is behind us and that this disease that has changed our lives in so many ways is no longer an open-ended threat to our lives and livelihoods, from all that we know today.”
On Monday, Alberta Health reported 14 more COVID-19 deaths, a total of 1,224 COVID-19 hospital patients, and 9,000 known active cases. The province’s number of COVID-19 hospital patients began to fall the second week of February, coming down from a high of 1,681 on Feb. 7. Since the start of the month, 295 Albertans have died due to COVID-19, including 40 in the past seven days, though both numbers will rise in the coming days as historical data is revised and updated. Limits to testing capacity and eligibility mean Alberta’s actual number of active cases is likely many times higher.
Kenney also revealed Tuesday his government planned to make amendments to the Municipal Government Act to prevent cities from imposing their own public health measures.
Despite provincial masking rules ending at midnight, Edmonton’s face covering bylaw is due to remain in effect until at least March 8, when council is due to debate keeping or ending it.
Kenney said he hoped to see the change legislated early next week so as “to not allow these lingering issues to be a divisive political football.”
“We certainly shouldn’t allow political science be substituted for public health science,” he said.
On June 18, 2021, Kenney and then health minister Tyler Shandro announced for the first time Alberta would lift most public health measures that Canada Day, having immunized 70 per cent of its eligible population with at least one dose of vaccine.
COVID-19 infections would rise throughout the summer, peaking in September and prompting an apology from Kenney and Alberta’s top doctor for moving too quickly.
More to come…