“We were being cautious, as we should be,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro said. “No one wants to see a spike in cases… No one wants to see more than 900 COVID patients in hospital.”
“Every day, we administer more vaccines and every day fewer Albertans are in hospital due to this virus,” Premier Jason Kenney said in a news release.
“With cases stable and more vaccines arriving, it’s time to take another safe step forward.”
The change will expand capacity limits for the retail sector from 15 per cent to 25 per cent of fire code occupancy.
It also means eased rules for college and university athletic programs.
Youth sports and recreation
- There is no change to the restrictions around youth sport and recreation.
- The Step 1 restrictions around youth sports and recreation have been expanded to include members of college and university athletic programs:
o Lessons, practices and physical conditioning activities are allowed.
o Games are not allowed.
o Maximum of 10 total individuals, including all coaches, trainers and participants.
o Physical distancing must be maintained between participants at all time.
o Participants must be masked at all times, except during the training activity.
Effective Monday, restrictions are eased for child, youth and adult performances as well, including dance, theatre, singing and wind instruments.
- For children and youth, performance activities are permitted provided they follow the same requirements set out for youth sport, performance and recreation activities in Step 1:
o Up to a maximum of 10 individuals with three-metre distancing between all participants.
o No spectators or in-person audiences are allowed for any type of performance.
o Masks are mandatory at all times.
o Includes lessons and practices.
o Includes youth development activities such as Scouts, Girl Guides and 4-H.
- Performance activities include dancing, singing, theatre and playing instruments.
Adult performers and performance groups
- Individual performers or performance groups (up to a maximum of 10 individuals) can access facilities for rehearsals or filming/virtual broadcasting.
- Larger indoor film and other performances will be allowed provided there is no audience and subject to an approved plan that follows strict new guidance, including regular lab-based PCR testing.
- No in-person audiences are allowed for any type of performance.
- Masks are required and three-metre physical distancing must be maintained at all times.
Larger indoor film, TV and theatre production is permitted under Step 2, as long as there are no live audiences and the company submits a proposal to implement proven prevention steps to the government.
Community halls, banquet halls, conference centres and hotels can open for activities that are allowed under steps 1 and 2 (like wedding ceremonies with a maximum of 10 people or funeral services with a maximum of 20 people). Receptions are still not permitted in any venue.
“We’ll be discussing Step 3 on March 22 at the earliest,” Shandro said.
“Today is another sign of hope.”
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said 297,600 vaccine doses have been administered and 91,000 Albertans are fully vaccinated with two doses.
“Protection from any vaccine, including those for COVID-19, doesn’t happen overnight. It takes approximately two to three weeks for them to be effective.”
She stressed health measures still need to be followed.
“We are not yet in the clear,” Hinshaw said. “Each time we ease restrictions, we increase opportunity for COVID-19 to spread if we do not follow the important preventative measures in place for each activity.”
Currently, anyone 75 and older is eligible to receive a vaccine.
“There are still spots available at participating pharmacies in Edmonton, Calgary and Red Deer,” Hinshaw said. “If you haven’t booked your vaccination yet, I would encourage you to do so as soon as possible.”
The Alberta Health Services COVID-19 online booking tool and Health Link (for vaccine booking) will be unavailable from midnight to 2 a.m. Tuesday, March 9, AHS said. It is being upgraded to prepare for the next wave of eligible Albertans.
Starting March 10 at 8 a.m., Albertans born in 1957 will be eligible to book an appointment for a Covishield/AstraZeneca vaccine.
Booking appointments will be opened based on age and will be expanded to other birth years one year at a time.
“We will offer to younger individuals if supply allows,” Hinshaw said.
Pharmacies are not administering the AstraZeneca vaccine at this time, she said, so eligible Albertans should call 811 or book online through AHS.
Beginning the week of March 15, Alberta will be expanding the vaccine rollout to include Phase 2A, which includes Albertans between 65 and 74 and First Nations, Inuit and Métis people aged 50 and older.
Appointments will be available by age group.
On Monday, Kenney also said he hopes to encourage as many Albertans as possible to receive the shots.
“Think of others. Think of the vulnerable in particular,” he said. “People can see, as more and more folks get vaccinated, that it’s safe, and that it’s effective.
“If we want to get our lives back, to get freedom back, then we have to have the most people as possible take that vaccine.”
Hinshaw said 278 new cases of COVID-19 had been identified in the last 24 hours, out of about 5,500 tests. That puts Alberta’s positivity rate at about 5.4 per cent.
Six new cases of COVID-19 variant were identified, bringing the provincial total to 659.
The R value for Alberta sits at 0.95.
“It is promising to have a R value below one,” Hinshaw said.
As of Monday, there were 254 people in hospital with COVID-19, 36 of whom were in intensive care.
Alberta Health said six additional deaths had been reported over the last 48 hours. All six cases included comorbidities, the province said.
One of the fatalities was linked to the outbreak at Churchill Manor in Edmonton — a woman in her 60s died.
A man in his 70s from the Edmonton zone also died, along with three people in the South zone: a man in his 80s, a woman in her 50s and a man in his 70s.
A man in his 70s from the Calgary zone also passed away due to COVID-19.
As of Monday, Churchill Manor had 57 COVID-19 cases, 55 of which were active, one was listed as recovered, one death. and 42 of which were variants.
Alberta calls for vaccine development proposals
On Monday, the province announced it would be accepting — over the next 10 business days — proposals regarding COVID-19 vaccine development and manufacturing in Alberta.
In a news release, the UCP government said Alberta is home to “world-renowned researchers and infrastructure.” It said the government wants to “understand and explore opportunities related to the province’s vaccine capacity as part of a long-term strategy to enhance our vaccine development and manufacturing capabilities.”
Kenney said while there is no fixed budget on the projects the government could support, the purpose of the call for proposals is to work out ways the province could be better prepared in the future in a more local context.
“We’re not just going to arbitrarily pick projects to back,” Kenney said. “We want to make sure they’re viable, that they can scale up, that they’ve got the source supplies ready to roll. That they’ve got the complicated supply chains figured out.”
Kenney said while many people may be vaccinated by the time the province moves forward with vaccine development and production, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need for that particular science.
“There’s still a big, obviously long-term interest in having our own domestic vaccine capacity,” Kenney said.
“(Developing) new vaccines that address variants of COVID-19, but also potentially for booster shots … it would be great to have our own booster shot capacity.
“We should be prepared for future pandemics… We’re willing to make significant investments to make that happen.”
Companies and organizations interested in submitting proposals can apply online, starting March 8. Applications close at midnight on March 21.
–with files from Allison Bench, Global News