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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks at the Rideau Club in Ottawa on March 12, 2020.

Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says there are no plans right now to look at varying economic restrictions based on regions.

Critics, including United Conservative caucus member Drew Barnes, are urging Mr. Kenney to look at varying the restrictions in areas of the province where there are few cases of COVID-19.

Mr. Kenney says they did so for a while last year when case counts were low, but rates became so high during the second wave that regional variances wouldn’t be effective.

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He says rates are rising of late in rural regions while falling in Edmonton and Calgary.

Alberta is now in the first stage of a four-part program to lift economic restrictions as COVID-19 hospitalization rates fall.

Dine-in service at restaurants and one-on-one fitness training were among the health limitations eased this week, given that there are fewer than 600 people in hospital with the virus.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Health Officer, has said there will be a minimum of three weeks between stages in order to fully assess the effect of the relaxed rules.

Mr. Kenney said the numbers argue against regional rules.

“Our threshold to go to a regional approach is to have 50 cases or fewer per 100,000 people in a health zone,” Mr. Kenney said Thursday.

“The closest we get to that [right now] would be in the south zone at just over 100 cases per 100,000.”

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Mr. Kenney said he understands the frustration with economic restrictions, but the goal is to keep COVID-19 cases from overwhelming the health system.

“People may live in communities, perhaps some rural communities, where there are no cases,” he said.

“Folks need to understand that transmission can happen very fast, and we have to look at the broader trends – yes, in the regions, but also the whole province.”

He said Alberta has had looser restrictions than other provinces.

Retail shops and faith-based services are currently open at 15-per-cent capacity. Entertainment venues, like bingo halls, casinos and movie theatres, remain closed.

Indoor gatherings are banned and outdoor get-togethers are capped at 10.

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Alberta reported 339 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday. There were 421 people in hospital, 77 of whom were in intensive care.

There were also 120 cases of COVID-19 variants, which are particularly troublesome as they are far more contagious and can grow exponentially if left unchecked.

There were also 5,706 active cases, a steep drop from the 21,000 reported in mid-December, when the latest round of economic restrictions was implemented.

There have so far been 1,728 deaths in Alberta due to COVID-19.

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

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