Alberta eases more COVID-19 restrictions, completes Step 2 of reopening plan

Retail stores and malls will be allowed to increase their capacity to 25 per cent of fire-code, and youth sports teams and activities will be allowed to resume with up to 10 participants, Alberta’s health minister announced Monday.

Tyler Shandro said with case counts and positivity rates continuing to decline, along with deaths and hospitalizations, it is now safe for the province to complete Step 2 of its reopening plan.

“The situation is changing and we need to change along with it,” Shandro said Monday at a news conference. “We said that we’d complete Step 2 when it was safe to do so, and I believe that it now is.

“The time is right to keep moving safely forward, and at the same time there are reasons for us to remain cautious. We’re not seeing the same sharp incline in cases that we saw in December. Cases have plateaued. And we still have to consider carefully how to get the balance right. But I believe that this step, the remainder of Step 2 today, is safe,” he said.

All retail settings, including shopping malls, can now increase the number of customers from 15 per cent of fire code occupancy to 25 per cent, Shandro said. The change applies to stores and to common areas such as hallways and food courts.

Starting immediately, the Step 1 restrictions that applied to youth will be expanded to include members of college and university athletic programs. That means lessons, practices and physical conditioning will be allowed for those programs with a maximum of 10 participants in total, including coaches, trainers and participants.

Those who attend will still be required to observe physical distancing rules and should wear masks at all times, except during the actual training activity.

Restrictions are also being eased for child, youth and adult performances, including singing, theatre and the playing of wind instruments, though participants must follow the same restrictions as for youth sports.

Latest case numbers

Alberta reported six more COVID-19 deaths and 278 new cases on Monday, with 254 patients being treated for the illness in hospitals, including 36 in ICU beds.

Labs conducted about 5,500 tests over the past 24 hours, with a positivity rate of 5.4 per cent. Six new cases of the “variant of concern” were detected, bringing the total to 659.

So far, Alberta has administered 297,600 doses of vaccine with more than 91,000 people now fully vaccinated with two doses.

“I want to reassure all Albertans that this is a careful step; it’s a cautious step,” Shandro said of Monday’s changes. “And we must, we will always, be responsible. Though we are easing the restrictions in these sectors, strong measures remain in place to keep the risk of transmission in our community low.

The province will consider moving to Step 3 on March 22 at the earliest, he said, which will give health officials time to see what impact, if any, these changes have.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, credited the public with helping to bring the numbers down in recent weeks.

“I would like to recognize the efforts many Albertans have made to bring case numbers and hospitalizations down, bringing us to a place where more activities can be opened,” she said.

“But as mentioned, we are not yet in the clear. As I have said before, each time we ease restrictions we increase opportunities for COVID-19 to spread if we do not continue to follow the important preventive measures required for each activity.

“So I would like to remind Albertans that easing restrictions does not mean that we can be less vigilant. When we continue to follow all measures in place, we protect one another, we protect our health-care system, and we protect the progress that we have made thus far.”

Last week, the province announced it would expand its COVID-19 Pfizer and Moderna vaccines roll out to include people under age 75 beginning March 15.

But Albertans who were born in 1957 will be able to book appointments to receive the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine beginning on March 10. Those born between 1958 and 1971 will be able to book vaccine appointments as well in the following days as long as the provincial supply lasts.

Premier Jason Kenney announced last week if vaccine shipments arrive as scheduled, all adults in the province will receive their first dose of the vaccine by the end of June.

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