Alberta announces new targeted COVID health measures, opens up booster eligibility

Alberta’s chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw cancelled her own holiday plans and had a dire message for Albertans, warning that we can’t negotiate with the virus. 

By Krista Sylvester | December 22, 2021 |5:00 am

Premier Jason Kenney announced new targeted health measures Tuesday in response to the latest surge of COVID cases in Alberta.

Photo: Screen Capture

For some, it’s not enough and for others, it may be too much, but the province has announced new targeted health measures in response to Alberta’s latest surge in COVID infections. 

The province has gone from a 3% positivity rate to 11% with its latest numbers, adding 786 new COVID cases in Alberta overnight. Alberta now has over 6,000 active cases. 

There are now 1,609 total Omicron cases to date as the highly infectious variant has taken over as the dominant strain. 

Alberta’s chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw cancelled her own holiday plans and had a dire message for Albertans, warning that we can’t negotiate with the virus. 

“In the next few weeks, we will see transmission go to heights we have never seen before,” she says, adding this new variant is more infectious than any other. 

“We should be very concerned with the future of Omicron.”

Albertans need to do their part 

Premier Jason Kenney is asking Albertans to reduce their personal contacts to 50%, while he referred to Health Minister Jason Copping to outline new targeted measures. 

“The contagiousness of this variant is going to touch a lot of people, not just here, but around the world,” Kenney warns. 

“We know this thing is spreading fast, it will continue to spread fast.” 

The premier says booster shots will be one of the best ways Albertans can protect themselves and he made an urgent plea with Albertans to roll up their sleeves a third time. 

The province announced that all Albertans over the age of 18 are now eligible to get their third dose.  That means anyone who had their second shot at least five months ago can now book in for their booster. 

“It’s the single most important thing anybody can do right now to protect themselves from Omicron,” Kenney adds. 

New measures should help slow the spread, but more needs to be done 

These new measures (outlined further below), along with more boosters and rapid test availability, will help slow the spread of COVID, says Copping. 

“These efforts are critical as work continues to prepare our healthcare system for potential challenges from the Omicron variant. I know Albertans are tired of the pandemic, but we need to take what we have learned from previous waves and urgently apply it to our current situation.”

The province says while these new measures will hopefully lower the risk at large events, they believe small everyday actions can have a big impact. 

“Now more than ever, it is important for Albertans to follow public health measures and consider how their actions may affect others,” Hinshaw says. 

“While we are still learning about Omicron, we do know that it is highly transmissible — cases are currently doubling in a matter of days. Reducing contacts will not only slow the spread of Omicron, but it can help us gain valuable time to prepare for what is to come.”

What the experts think 

Dr. Daniel Gregson, an associate professor at the University of Calgary and infectious disease expert, says something needs to be done sooner rather than later to curb the inevitable rise in infections. 

“I don’t have a crystal ball here, but you saw how bad it was in October and we’re just coming out of that. We haven’t gotten hospitalizations or ICU admission down (enough yet),” he explains, adding the healthcare system hasn’t fully recovered from the Delta wave yet. 

“We know our numbers are going to go up for sure. That’s a given and what we’ve seen over the last week, and it’s going to continue that way unless there are some new restrictions put in place.” 

Gregson says the province’s restriction exemption program that was put in place in September due to the last wave worked out “quite well,” and he hopes new measures can do the same. 

New measures start at 12:01 a.m. on Dec. 24: 

For venues in the Restrictions Exemption Program, there is now a 50% capacity limit at venues that seat more than 1,000 people. For venues with a capacity of between 500 and 1,000 occupants, 500 is the limit.

No food or drink consumption in seated audience settings or during intermissions in the above-mentioned venues, including Flames games, for example. There is no impact on venues under 500.

Maximum table capacity of 10 people in restaurants, pubs and bars. No mingling between tables. Interactive activities at restaurants, pubs and bars such as dancing, darts and billiards are not allowed. 

Restaurants, pubs and bars must stop liquor service at 11 p.m., and close by 12:30 a.m.

Restrictions continue for both indoor and outdoor social gatherings, weddings, funerals, places of worship and businesses. Albertans should also refrain from workplace social gatherings.

Watch the full press conference.

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Krista Sylvester

Managing Editor at Calgary Citizen

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