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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says a surging wave of COVID-19 fuelled by the Omicron variant has grown to more than 30,000 active cases with 436 people in hospital with the infection.

That’s an increase of more than 10,000 cases in the past four to five days, and a record since the pandemic began.

There were 371 people in hospital with COVID-19 last week.

What we’ve learned about Omicron so far, including how severe illness from the variant appears to be

Mr. Kenney says the actual case count is likely to be much higher, given that the positivity rate is hovering around 30 per cent – another record high.

“We do expect to see hospitalizations rise in the weeks ahead,” Mr. Kenney told reporters Tuesday.

“Alberta Health and [Alberta Health Services] is doing everything that they can to prepare our health system for the impact of this wave.”

Mr. Kenney and Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, released the data at the province’s first full COVID-19 update of the new year.

There were 4,000 new cases reported on New Year’s Eve, and Dr. Hinshaw said there have been more than 3,240 new COVID-19 cases on average each day since.

There were 61 people in intensive care with COVID-19 – up from 48 reported on Dec. 31.

There were also 12 more deaths from COVID-19, including a child between the ages of 5 and 9 with complex underlying medical conditions.

“The presence of a medical condition does not take away from the grief or tragedy of this loss,” Dr. Hinshaw said. “I extend my deepest sympathies to this family.

“While Omicron has shown to be less severe than other variants, each death is an unfortunate reminder that its effects can still be serious and even deadly for some.”

Last week, the province announced new measures to deal with the rapidly transmissible Omicron variant.

The winter school break for kindergarten to Grade 12 students has been extended to Jan. 10 to allow schools to plan for a safe startup for in-person learning.

Mr. Kenney said students and staff will be the priority for 10 million new rapid COVID-19 test kits that are set to arrive in the coming weeks.

Mr. Kenney said one million were received last week and the rest will arrive through mid-January, on top of another four million coming from the federal government.

“Our first priority will be getting those into the schools, so that parents can use them with children if they’re showing any signs of symptoms,” Mr. Kenney said.

He said vaccinations continue to be the best defence against COVID-19, with 7.7 million doses having been delivered to date.

He said 70 per cent of COVID-19 patients in intensive care are unvaccinated.

Alberta’s Opposition NDP called on the United Conservative government to provide better COVID-19 supports for students when they return to class.

Education critic Sarah Hoffman said the government needs to provide more information on projected absenteeism and infection rates in schools so staff have a better idea of what they’re facing.

“This will give us all a picture of whether schools will be forced to close again due to a lack of staff,” Ms. Hoffman said.

“We need to have a candid conversation based on data.”

Ms. Hoffman also said the more effective N95 masks must be made available to staff and students along with high-efficiency air filters for schools to reduce the airborne spread of Omicron.

On Monday, new rules also took effect on isolations. Those with COVID-19 symptoms but who have had at least two doses of vaccine can isolate for five days instead of 10.

Health Minister Jason Copping has said data suggest the fully vaccinated have shorter infectious periods.

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