Alberta and British Columbia are both extending COVID-19 restrictions after concluding that recent decreases in infections did not do enough to bend the curve or allay fears that holiday gatherings could push infections back up.
Alberta, which has had some of the highest rates of infection, hospitalization and death in the country throughout the second wave, is extending measures that include restaurant closings and a ban on all gatherings for at least another two weeks, until Jan. 21.
B.C., which has lower infection rates and less-stringent COVID-19 measures, will extend restrictions on social gatherings, events and activities such as group fitness activities for at least another month, to Feb. 5.
The two provinces have had significantly different experiences in the second wave of the pandemic in terms of how quickly the virus has spread as well as the toll in hospitalizations and deaths. Alberta’s current infection rates are more than twice what they are in B.C., which has some of the lowest rates outside Atlantic Canada and the territories.
Both provinces saw infection rates dip in late December, partly because of lower levels of testing, and have seen cases trend upward in the past week.
Alberta had resisted stronger measures in the fall even as COVID-19 infections skyrocketed, instead relying on voluntary measures and an appeal to Albertans’ sense of “personal responsibility.” That changed a month ago, when the province closed in-person dining at restaurants as well as gyms and other businesses, and banned all gatherings. The province had earlier announced the cancellation of in-person classes for junior-high and high-school students.
Premier Jason Kenney announced Thursday that while in-person classes would resume next week as scheduled, the remaining measures will be extended beyond their initial four-week timeline.
The province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said the current rates of infection, while lower than a peak in December, are still high and threaten to imperil the health care system.
“I know this has been a challenging four weeks, but we cannot relax our grip. We must stay the course,” she said.
“The progress we make over the coming weeks will help determine how the coming months look in our province.”
In B.C., the current restrictions limit socialization to immediate households only and prohibit all community-based social gatherings and events, such as weddings and funerals, places of worship, group physical activities and most sports. People are also advised, but not ordered, to avoid non-essential travel outside of their communities.
The Provincial Health Officer, Dr. Bonnie Henry, said the recent increase in the number of infections means the province cannot pull back.
“We are closely monitoring our progress and if further action is required, we will take that,” Dr. Henry said.
“If we see positive trends in our cases and our hospitalizations, and we see a lessening of our impacts, we will monitor that as well. Right now, we need to hold the line.”
The COVID-19 measures were first announced for the Vancouver Coastal and Fraser Health regions on Nov. 7 and expanded province-wide on Nov. 19.
Alberta added 968 new infections on Thursday. That gives the province an average daily infection rate for the past week of about 23 infections per 100,00, second only to Quebec.
Alberta also has the highest rates of hospitalization and the second-highest rate of deaths in the country, behind Quebec. There were 871 people in hospital, including 139 in intensive care, and Dr. Hinshaw reported 24 additional deaths.
B.C. reported 761 new COVID-19 infections on Thursday. The province has an average daily infection rate of about 11 infections per 100,000.
There were 372 people in hospital, including 74 in intensive care.
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