EDMONTON -- Surgical capacity will be reduced by 30 per cent in the Edmonton, Calgary and North medical zones for the next two weeks due to rising COVID-19 numbers, says Alberta Health Services.

The agency says it will also reduce some non-urgent procedures and ambulatory appointments.

It said in a series of posts on Twitter Tuesday night that these services will be rebooked as soon as possible.

“These changes will allow our hospitals to expand inpatient beds if necessary and create more capacity for COVID-19 cases requiring hospitalization."

According to AHS, Alberta's single health authority, the province currently has adequate capacity for both hospitalized and intensive care unit patients but can ramp up the number of ICU spaces if demand increases.

“AHS is concerned with the increasing number of cases both in the community and in our health-care facilities. We strongly urge Albertans to follow the public health restrictions, and in turn help us ensure the health-care system is there when they need it.”

Alberta has some 20,700 active cases of COVID-19 -- the second-highest total it has seen since the pandemic began.

At a pandemic update that same afternoon, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said she is seeing "an unprecedented risk of transmission across the province right now.”

“We all need to take this virus seriously to bend the curve, including getting a vaccine as soon as we are eligible.”

Alberta has had more than 1,000 new cases every day for weeks and hospitalization rates are approaching what they were during the peak of the second wave of the pandemic in December.

The highest recorded active case count was 21,649 on Dec. 15. It was during that time that Premier Jason Kenney's government invoked a renewed round of restrictions on business and public gatherings to keep the caseload from swamping the health system.

In early January, hospitalizations peaked at more than 900, then dropped to around 250 in late February before starting to climb again.

On Tuesday, Hinshaw announced 1,539 new cases, with 635 people in hospital, including 143 in intensive care. The positivity rate remained high at 11.4 per cent. The more contagious variant strains of COVID-19 made up about two-thirds of active cases.

Hinshaw declined to say whether she believed stricter health measures are needed, or if she has made such a recommendation to Alberta's COVID-19 cabinet committee. 

Premier Jason Kenney dismissed calls for new measures as recently as Monday, saying the existing rules sufficed and questioning whether more public health orders would be followed. 

With files from The Canadian Press' Dean Bennett and Bill Graveland