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Pedestrians wearing masks walk through an empty downtown in Calgary on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2020. Alberta is easing some of its public-health restrictions imposed in December to limit the spread of COVID-19.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

The Alberta government is easing public-health rules around funerals, outdoor gatherings and hair salons while warning residents to keep following other restrictions in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Starting Monday, personal and wellness services, including hair salons and tattoo parlours, can open by appointment only.

Outdoor social gatherings, which were previously banned, will be allowed in groups of up to 10 people.

And the limit on the number of people who can attend funerals is increasing to 20, although receptions are still prohibited.

On Thursday, Alberta reported 967 new cases of COVID-19 and 21 additional deaths due to the illness. There were 806 people in hospital, with 136 of those in intensive care.

“Alberta’s hospitalizations and case numbers remain high and they pose a threat to our health system capacity,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro told a news conference.

“Today, we can’t entirely ease up … but we can make small adjustments to provide Albertans with some limited activities.”

Back in November, the United Conservative government banned indoor gatherings and limited outdoor groups, along with funerals and weddings, to 10 people.

In early December, as COVID-19 infections spiked to well over 1,000 a day, Premier Jason Kenney announced a strict lockdown similar to one in the spring during the first wave of the pandemic.

In addition to banning outdoor gatherings, restaurants and bars were limited to delivery and takeout. Casinos, gyms, recreation centres, libraries and theatres were closed. Retail stores and churches were allowed to open but at 15 per cent capacity.

He also imposed a provincewide mask mandate, making Alberta the last province in the country to have one.

Those rules remain in place and need to be followed, Mr. Shandro said.

Alberta’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said officials looked at the province’s COVID-19 data along with research from other parts of the world about what settings were seeing the most transmission.

Funerals, outdoor gatherings and personal service businesses show a lower level of risk, she said.

Easing these rules now will act as a test case, she added. Case numbers will have to be lower before any other restrictions are loosened.

“This is our opportunity to give Albertans a little bit more freedom and the ability to do a few more activities in a safe way,” Dr. Hinshaw said.

“This really is up to all of us to be able to meet those stepwise levels going down to be able to open additional things going forward.”

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