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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says the province will stay the course on its current COVID-19 heath restrictions, despite rising case numbers and more variants of concern.

But Kenney, in a news conference Thursday, pleaded with Albertans to follow the existing rules – especially heading into the Easter holiday weekend – saying more dangerous variants of COVID-19 will soon be the dominant strain in the province.

“Please, please follow Alberta’s health restrictions and guidelines this weekend and in the weeks to come,” said Kenney.

“We are now in a significant new wave of COVID-19. How bad that wave will be is up to all of us.”

He said his United Conservative government will bring in more health restrictions if necessary, but “we have very strong measures in place right now.”

“What we’re seeing is a growing number of people who are not complying with the restrictions that are already there. And if they’re not complying with the current restrictions, I think they’re not likely to comply with additional restrictions.

“The key thing is to get people’s attention that the vaccines and the [spring] weather doesn’t mean we’re past this.”

Kenney announced 875 new cases of COVID-19, the second consecutive day of new cases above 800.

There were 322 new variants of concern, and the variants now occupy about one-third of the 8,653 active cases. All but a handful of the variants are B.1.1.7, the strain that originated in the United Kingdom.

The variants are far more contagious than the original strain, can cause more serious medical complications, and have more potential to critically affect younger people.

There were 292 people in hospital with COVID-19 on Thursday, including 59 in intensive care. There were also four more deaths reported, bringing that total in the province to 1,994.

Alberta has administered more than 530,000 doses of vaccine.

The variant cases are growing quickly, doubling as a percentage of total cases to 32 per cent from 16 per cent in the last 10 days.

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Kenney is again failing to lead on the pandemic.

“Today, Jason Kenney admitted that he has COVID-19 pandemic modelling that he has withheld from Albertans. This modelling indicates that if this UCP government stays on the current path, more Albertans will get infected, more will go to hospital and more will die,” said Notley.

“Yet, inexplicably, Jason Kenney is choosing to stay on that very path. This defies common sense, let alone professional public-health advice.”

Other provinces are taking extra steps to counter the rise in COVID-19 caseloads.

In Ontario, Premier Doug Ford announced his government is expanding some restrictions and delaying planned business reopenings over the next month as an “emergency brake” to reverse its rise in variant cases.

In Quebec, three municipalities moved into lockdown Thursday, closing schools and non-essential businesses for at least 10 days.

Kenney has been under pressure from people on both sides of the debate.

Some members of his own caucus have been pushing him to either ease restrictions or allow for regional variations. They say the existing rules are needlessly restrictive and are adversely affecting both business and mental health.

But some doctors are warning even tighter restrictions are required to avoid a surge of COVID-19 cases overwhelming the health system.

The Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association said the province needs to clamp down harder on those who break the rules and to immediately advise Albertans to only leave their homes for essential services or exercise.

“Even if public health protective measures were strengthened today, we will still see more than double the number of cases per day two weeks from now,” wrote the association in an open letter.

“Every day we delay in taking effective individual and government action will ensure that the peak gets higher and the recovery to normality takes longer.”

Alberta has a ban on indoor social gatherings and outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people. Wedding ceremonies and funeral services must have severely curtailed attendance.

Retail business can be open at no more than 25 per cent customer capacity. Restaurants must mandate no more than six people per table, all from the same household.

Places of worship are limited to 15 per cent capacity. Schools remain open.

Other businesses, such as hairstylists, dentists, and lawyers, are open by appointment only. Entertainment venues, from water parks to bowling alleys, movie theatres and bingo halls, remain closed. Gyms are open for one-on-one training or low-intensity group workouts.

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