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Calgary, Edmonton protesters rally against COVID-19 measures as Alberta adds 1,590 new cases

Click to play video 'Edmonton retail stores busy with last minute shoppers before new COVID-19 restrictions take effect' Edmonton retail stores busy with last minute shoppers before new COVID-19 restrictions take effect
WATCH ABOVE: Many Edmontonians flocked to retail stores and malls Saturday for some last minute shopping. The influx comes ahead of new provincial restrictions that take effect Sunday. Chris Chacon reports. – Dec 12, 2020

As Alberta added 1,590 new cases of COVID-19 as well as 13 deaths related to the disease, protests took place in Calgary and Edmonton against stronger restrictions set to take place in the province midnight Sunday.

There are now 20,072 active cases of COVID-19 in the province, the majority of which remain in Calgary and Edmonton zones. Edmonton zone now sits at 9,548 active cases, or just under 48 per cent of the total, and Calgary zone currently has 7,127 active cases, or just under 36 per cent of the total.

The number of recoveries reported Saturday slightly outweighed the new cases, with 1,639 Albertans recovering over the last 24 hours.

The provincial positivity rate sits at just under eight per cent, with 20,227 COVID-19 tests completed on Dec. 11.

All of the 13 deaths reported Saturday were senior citizens, and all but one of the deaths were connected to outbreaks at continuing care centres around the province.

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Read more: New COVID-19 restrictions affect Alberta families mourning deaths of loved ones

The protests against upcoming restrictions took place in Alberta’s two largest metro centres Saturday and saw hundreds of people gathered at both the legislature in Edmonton and in downtown Calgary as part of the “Walk for Freedom” movement.

On the Walk for Freedom Facebook page, the group said the marches aim to stand up for rights and freedoms and protest “draconian restrictions” in Alberta.

Calgary police said it was estimated that about 100-200 people attended the protest in that city, which was smaller than similar rallies held in recent weeks.

“This is reprehensible behaviour by people who are either conspiracy theory nut cases or people who have been preyed upon by conspiracy theory nut cases,” Calgary’s Ward 9 Coun. Gian Carlo Carra said.

“It’s difficult because it is a political protest, and we are a nation and a society that values the expression of free speech but at the same time this is a global pandemic.

“We are literally putting lives at risk and increasing the lines of transmission, and I don’t know why these people don’t get it.”

Calgarians gather to protest government restrictions intended to stop the spread of COVID-19, Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. Tom Reynolds, Global News
The March for Freedom in Edmonton, Alta., on Saturday Dec. 12, 2020. Eric Beck / Global News

The new measures set to come into place midnight Sunday include a 15 per cent capacity limit for retail and grocery stores, as well as places of worship.

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All restaurants, bars, pubs and cafes must close in-person dining but can still offer takeout. All entertainment venues, recreation facilities, casinos, personal and wellness services must close, also effective this Sunday.

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Masks are now mandatory in all indoor public spaces and workplaces across the province, with the exception of farm operations and rental accommodations.

All outdoor social gatherings are also banned, on top of the ban that was already in place for indoor social gatherings.

A march protesting Alberta’s COVID-19 measures in Calgary on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020.
A march protesting Alberta’s COVID-19 measures in Calgary on Saturday, Dec. 12, 2020. Tom Reynolds / Global News

Read more: ‘Nobody loves a house party more than COVID’: Alberta launches new ad campaign

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, encouraged people to begin following the new rules even before they go into effect Sunday.

“The time to change our behaviour is now,” Hinshaw tweeted Saturday. “Please do not rush to malls or cram into businesses if you don’t need to.”

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There are now 681 Albertans in hospital, 128 of whom are in intensive care.

The Edmonton zone has an especially high number of hospitalizations with 379 COVID-19 patients needing care, or just over 55 per cent of the provincial total.

Saturday death details

Saturday’s announced fatalities bring the provincial total to 697 deaths related to COVID-19.

In Edmonton zone, there were five deaths connected to the Hardisty Care Centre: two men in their 80s, two women in their 80s and a man in his 70s. All are believed to have comorbidities, or pre-existing conditions, except for one of the women in her 80s.

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Also in Edmonton zone, a man in his 80s at Virginia Park Lodge, a woman in her 80s at Dickinsfield Capital Care, a woman in her 80s at Capital care Lynndwood, and a man in his 90s connected to the outbreak at Edmonton Chinatown Care Centre all passed away, and all four were believed to have pre-existing conditions.

A man in his 80s in Central zone, not connected to any outbreaks, also died.

There two deaths in Calgary zone, two woman, one in her 70s and another in her 90s, both at the Clifton Manor outbreak. While it’s believed the woman in her 70s may have had pre-existing conditions, Alberta Health said it is unknown if the woman in her 90s did.

A woman in her 70s connected to Heimstaed Lodge in North zone also died.

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–With files from Caley Ramsay and Slav Kornik, Global News