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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Calgary, on Sept. 15, 2020.Todd Korol/The Canadian Press

Premier Jason Kenney says more seniors, along with Albertans in group homes and homeless shelters, will receive priority in the next round of COVID-19 vaccinations.

“We have to ensure those people who are most at risk of severe health outcomes get the vaccine as quick as we can get it to them,” Mr. Kenney told a virtual news conference Friday.

The second phase, involving an estimated 1.8 million people, is expected to begin some time in April.

Mr. Kenney said the plan is to ramp up inoculations once a bottleneck in vaccine shipments is cleared up.

“We are shooting for over 200,000 [inoculations] a week before the end of March,” he said.

“In fact, we have a stretch target that’s considerably higher than that as we bring on community partners through the pharmacies and we set up large vaccination depots and centres around the province.”

Alberta has delivered more than 155,000 doses to people. More than 58,000 have been fully immunized with the recommended two shots.

A reduced vaccine shipment from suppliers has been causing delays in recent weeks, but the federal government has said it has been assured by manufacturers that all doses promised for the first quarter of the year will arrive by the end of March.

Age and underlying medical conditions – the two factors that make contracting the novel coronavirus riskier and potentially deadly – are being used to determine who gets priority in Phase 2.

First in line will be Group A: Albertans between 65 and 74, First Nations and Métis from 50 to 64 and staff in licensed supportive living facilities.

Group B will include anyone between 16 and 64 with underlying health conditions to be outlined at a later date.

Residents and staff in congregate living facilities, group homes, correctional facilities and homeless shelters will make up Group C.

Albertans between 50 and 64, as well as First Nations and Métis between 35 and 49, will be in Group D and will have to wait the longest.

Opposition NDP health critic David Shepherd called the announcement late and thin.

“Jason Kenney and Tyler Shandro finally released their plan to vaccinate Albertans more than two months after he promised Alberta was ready,” Mr. Shepherd said.

“Those delays caused a lot of unnecessary anxiety for Alberta families and businesses. It’s hard to see why this lateness was necessary, and these delays damaged public trust.”

Mr. Kenney also announced that all residents in long-term care and designated supportive living facilities – more than 29,000 people – have now received the recommended two doses.

They are part of Phase 1 of the rollout, which began late last year, focusing on high-risk care home residents and front-line health medical workers.

Residents in those facilities have severe medical issues, such as dementia, and were considered the highest risk if they contracted the virus.

Alberta’s economy has been under renewed restrictions since before Christmas after soaring COVID-19 rates were spiking at 1,800 new cases a day and more than 800 people in hospital.

Alberta is now toggling between about 300 to 400 new cases a day and is well under 400 people in hospital with COVID-19.

The province is reopening the economy in stages tied to hospitalization rates.

Mr. Kenney said the numbers are generally pointing to the next stage reopening as early as March 1, but he said that could change quickly if case numbers or hospitalizations take off.

The next stage involves the further opening of retail store capacity. Mr. Kenney said there may also be some opening of conference centres and community centres for small gatherings.

He said cabinet may announce any reopening decision before March 1 in order to give businesses time to prepare for changes to take effect on that date.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says he spoke with the head of Moderna and that Canada is on track to receive two million doses of its vaccine by the end of March.

The Canadian Press

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