Good morning! It’s James Keller in Calgary.
In some ways, the reopening plans released by several provincial governments are similar. Most of them tie public-health measures to vaccination rates with an eye to ensure that life returns to normal only when a sizable portion of the population has protective immunity. But significant differences mean life will look a lot different this summer depending on where you live.
All provinces have outlined a gradual relaxation of rules over the next few weeks. But to understand the differences, all you need to do is consider what happens when 70 per cent of eligible people have a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine – which has emerged as a significant milestone.
In B.C., the province expected to hit that benchmark by July 1, which would usher in the third stage of a four-step reopening plan. Indoor and outdoor social gatherings would return as usual, restaurants and gyms can open as usual, but there would still be limits on things such as indoor sports events, casinos and nightclubs. Businesses and large events such as fairs will be subject to COVID-19 safety plans.
Saskatchewan’s plan says most rules will be lifted at that stage, but it does suggest some limits on gathering sizes and mask requirements could remain. Those details are still being worked out.
In contrast, Alberta plans to end all public-health restrictions outside of long-term care facilities when it reaches that point. Two weeks after 70 per cent of eligible people – that is, anyone 12 and older – have at least one vaccine shot, there will effectively be no rules. Masking, physical distancing, limits on gatherings would all be gone. That’s expected to happen in about a month, giving Alberta the most aggressive plan in the country.
Crucially for the United Conservative Party government, that would mean the Calgary Stampede – which has become a symbol of the end of the pandemic – can proceed essentially as normal in early July.
The event usually draws more than 100,000 people a day to the Stampede grounds in Calgary, and Premier Jason Kenney says those people shouldn’t have any qualms about gathering like they did before the pandemic. The Stampede is expected to be by far the largest event in Canada since the pandemic prompted public-health restrictions more than a year ago.
(In Ontario, outdoor gatherings will likely be limited to just 25 people by then, and only if 20 per cent of eligible people also have second doses.)
Rounding out the West, Manitoba still has yet to release a reopening plan. The province recently extended public-health measures as it continues to cope with a crushing third wave that has overwhelmed the health-care system.
Alberta’s Premier has rejected criticism that his plan is too aggressive. He says the pace of vaccinations means that life can finally return to normal and he has derided skepticism from medical experts and the Opposition NDP as ”anti-vaxxers,” accusing them of casting doubt on the science of vaccines.
In fact, the criticism has largely focused on the province’s specific benchmarks, the decision not to include targets for second doses, and emerging evidence that some variants mean that just a single dose does not offer significant protection.
“I guess I would put the onus on people with that critique: If 70-per-cent population protection is not adequate, then what is?” he said on Thursday.
He says the province looked to other places in the world that have successfully opened up with even lower levels of vaccination without seeing major surges of infections.
Mr. Kenney has also brushed aside concerns that some places in the province have significantly lower vaccine rates than elsewhere, including High Level in northern Alberta, where just 11.5 per of people have had at least one vaccine shot.
Back in B.C., officials are also pointing to vaccines as the route to normality, though they are striking a more cautious tone. Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s Chief Medical Officer, said she was confident in the province’s plan but warned “this virus still has some tricks up its sleeve” that could slow that progress.
Mr. Horgan warned that even as they relax, the restrictions that remain, such as limits on outdoor gatherings, will still be in force.
“We have relieved the restrictions on gatherings, but [are] not letting it all rip,” he said.
Globe and Mail columnist Gary Mason says the B.C. and Alberta visions for the next few months are actually miles apart: “To say that they offer radically different road maps to a postpandemic world would be an understatement,” he writes. “One appears to be based on science and the other on the scheduled opening day of the Calgary Stampede. One sees life returning to normal in September, the other in early July. The two visions are difficult to reconcile.”
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.