Premier Jason Kenney announces new COVID-19 restrictions during a live-streamed news conference on Dec. 8, 2020. SCREEN GRAB: SAM PHELPS

Premier Jason Kenney announced new measures Tuesday to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the province, as regulations from Nov. 27 have failed to lower Alberta’s surge in positive cases.

The restrictions come as the province announced 1,727 new cases of COVID-19, along with 654 current hospitalizations, and 112 ICU admissions. The update from Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw also included nine new deaths, bringing the total number of deaths to 654 due to COVID-19.

In addition, there are 426 schools, 18 per cent of all Alberta schools, that are considered to have outbreaks or be on the watch list. 

In October, the province had a positivity rate of 1.34 per cent, today that number stands at 9.41 per cent. One in three Albertans have now been tested for COVID-19 at least once. 

“COVID cases have grown 600 per cent since October,” Kenney said. This includes an increase of ICU patients by 300 per cent as well as a 371 per cent increase in hospitalizations since Nov. 1.

“If we do not succeed in bending down the curve, we will see these hospitalization numbers increase.”

The premier said that it is no longer a viable solution to apply restrictions to specific regions, pushing the need for a province-wide approach. 

Kenney said that following the advice of Hinshaw, the government has “layered on” numerous restrictions over the past weeks. Another layer is being added on today, with the premier announcing the following new measures. These restrictions will be in place for at least four weeks. 

Taking effect immediately

  • A province-wide masking mandate in all public indoor spaces, including workplaces and excluding farms. 
  • Effective Dec. 8, all indoor and outdoor social gatherings have been prohibited. This will be enforced with $1,000 fines.

New measures

As of 12:01 a.m., Sunday, Dec. 13, these measures include:

  • Mandatory work-from-home measures, unless an employer determines work requires a physical presence for effectiveness. 
  • A capacity cap of 15 per cent for retail businesses and places of worship, in relation to the building’s fire code. 
  • Restaurants, bars, cafes, lounges and pubs will  be temporarily closed for in-person dining. Delivery, takeout and curbside pick-up will still be permitted. 
  • Food court kiosks will be allowed to stay open within malls and buildings for takeout services only.
  • Places of entertainment such as casinos, bingo halls, gaming and racing centres, bowlings alleys, pool halls and private clubs will also be temporarily closed, 
  • All recreational centres will be closed. This includes fitness centres, recreation centres, pools, spas, gyms, studios and indoor rinks and arenas. 
  • Libraries, science centres, museums, galleries, amusement parks and water parks will also have to close their doors for the time being. 
  • Businesses specializing in personal and wellness services including hair and nail salons, tattoo parlours and massage businesses are also closed. 

For the complete list of guidelines, visit:https://www.alberta.ca/enhanced-public-health-measures.aspx

Kenney stressed the importance of limiting social gatherings, especially as the Christmas season approaches. He said that the public should limit their holiday celebrations to those living in their homes, or to their two close contacts if one lives alone. 

A graphic showing the most recent COVID-19 data for the province of Alberta on Dec. 8, 2020 SOURCE: GOVERNMENT OF ALBERTA.

“But here is the hard truth. Clearly, the biggest single source of viral transmission is at home gatherings. It’s when we let our guard down, it’s when we relax with people that we are close to, and it’s when transmission most easily happens.”

How this impacts Albertans

Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer says that these restrictions will severely impact the province’s economy. 

“I’m asking each and every one of you that may not like these new health orders, those who may not want to do this, that you think about every single person in your community that is impacted in a dramatic way by being shut down.”

The government is also increasing support for small and medium-sized businesses. The available support has been quadrupled to $20, 000 and the eligibility has been lowered from 50 per cent of revenue lost to 30 per cent. 

Schweitzer said that 40 per cent of Alberta businesses “may not be able to turn the lights back on” without government support. 

Premier faces criticism

Kenney’s announcement comes nearly a month after Alberta physicians and others began asking for more stringent lockdown measures as case numbers started to rise.

Critics said Tuesday’s announcement, while welcome, is is too late and could have been avoided all together with bolder action.

“Jason Kenney made a terrible decision to pit the economy against public health … and he has failed at both,” NDP Leader Rachel Notley said on Twitter.

Kenney also lashed-out at a reporter who asked him if he would take responsibility for the growing crisis, calling the query “more like a NDP speech than a media question.”