Good morning. It’s James Keller in Calgary.
After nearly 16 months of public-health restrictions designed to curb the spread of COVID-19, Alberta is following through with plans to lift virtually all of them – permanently, the Premier says – on Canada Day.
Premier Jason Kenney’s announcement came as the province reached a threshold of 70 per cent of eligible people with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
It also follows more than a month of declining infection and hospitalization numbers after a third wave that made Alberta the North American hotspot for the virus. Alberta remains above the Canadian average for infections, but cases are a small fraction of what they were in early May, and falling, and they are at their lowest level since last October.
The change will be dramatic.
Some businesses have been forced to close for most, or all, of the months since pandemic lockdowns began, and others have seen significant disruptions. Restaurants, salons, movie theatres, nightclubs, places of worship – and the list goes on – will all be permitted to essentially return to a pre-pandemic world.
Social gatherings, currently banned indoors and restricted to 20 people outside, will have no limits. People will be allowed to have dinner parties again, go to concerts, and attend live sports events. The provincewide mask mandate will end, though some communities may still require them.
Mr. Kenney was jubilant as he promised the worst of the pandemic had passed.
“We did it. You did it,” he said.
At the same time, the government is asking people to use common sense to keep COVID-19 from surging again, and people will still be required to isolate if they have symptoms, and some restrictions will remain at health-care and long-term care facilities. Alberta Health Services has been working with large event organizers, like the Calgary Stampede and the Calgary Folk Music Festival, to maintain some public-health measures for attendees.
Some public-health experts have warned that the province is moving too quickly, particularly in light of the more-contagious Delta variant that was first associated with India, and have urged the government to slow down at least until more people have received their second vaccination. While the province has among the highest proportion of fully immunized people in the country, that is still only at 26 per cent of those who are eligible. And the rate for people with at least one dose, at 70 per cent, is near the bottom, with only Nunavut and Saskatchewan lower.
Mr. Kenney brushes off those concerns and says critics are effectively questioning the science behind vaccines. He says the province is working to bring vaccination numbers up, including with a lottery that will give out three $1-million prizes and travel packages to entice people to get vaccinated.
Nowhere else in Canada is proceeding as aggressively as Alberta. British Columbia has been relaxing rules around outdoor and indoor gatherings, loosened travel restrictions, and opened up restaurants with limits. On July 1, the province expects to allow all private gatherings and lift all restrictions on indoor dining and allow other businesses such as casinos and nightclubs to operate with limited capacity.
B.C. won’t open up as widely as Alberta until September. But the province’s progression through its re-opening plan has still created cause for celebration as people start to travel and gather again.
Reporters in our B.C. bureau took stock of how it’s going over, as bookings on BC Ferries fill up, children’s sports teams gather to practice, and people hit the gym for the first time in months.
Saskatchewan will enter Step 2 of its re-opening plan on Sunday, relaxing restrictions on bars, restaurants, social gatherings and places of worship. It plans to enter Step 3, which would lift nearly all of the province’s restrictions in line with Alberta, as early as July 11. That will only happen three weeks after 70 per cent of adults have at least one dose of a vaccine.
Manitoba, whose third wave was significant and peaked later than other provinces, continues to move cautiously. The government will begin to lift some restrictions and increase capacity in businesses as early as Canada Day. The province is expecting to allow all services and businesses to re-open by September, but even then there will be “limited restrictions” in some cases.
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.