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People line up outside a vaccine clinic as seniors wait to get the COVID-19 vaccine in Edmonton on Friday, Feb. 26, 2021.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Alberta is dealing with a sharp rise in the number of COVID-19 cases.

Officials reported 696 new cases on Friday, including 130 variants of concern.

The number of new daily cases has not been that high since the middle of January.

The daily case number had fallen to as low as 224 on Feb. 8 but has been above 500 on each of the past three days.

On a positive note, Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, says no new deaths were reported.

While she was not available for comment, she tweeted that it has been five days since a COVID-19 death has occurred in continuing care.

“This is a positive sign that vaccines combined [with] public health measures are working,” she posted.

On Thursday, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said COVID-19 data looked promising as his cabinet prepared to -meet Monday and decide whether to further ease public-health restrictions.

Mr. Kenney said the key metric is the hospitalization rate, which has been well under 300 for three weeks.

“There have been little blips up and little blips down, but basically the situation has been relatively stable,” he said Thursday.

The 300 figure was announced in January as the benchmark needed before Alberta could move to the third phase of its reopening plan, which includes entertainment venues such as movie theatres and casinos. It also allows adult team sports.

But the Opposition New Democrats said Friday’s numbers are worrying.

“I know many Albertans will be asking if this is an outlier or a signal of a third wave,” health critic David Shepherd said in a statement.

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