Alberta to phase in parks, restaurants and retail stores in newly revealed relaunch strategy
EDMONTON -- Alberta's plan to relaunch the economy will begin by phasing in some elective surgeries and provincial park access at the start of May, Premier Jason Kenney announced Thursday.
If all goes well, the government will then move to reopen some retail stores, barber shops and salons, museums, art galleries and daycares as early as May 14.
A government outline says the relaunch strategy is a direct result of Albertans respecting public health orders like practicing good hygiene, self-isolation and maintaining two metres of distance between one another since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
But progressing to the final phase of the plan, which aims for a full reopening of businesses and services with restrictions, is dependent on whether Albertans can maintain their positive momentum.
"Here's the reality. We're not close to getting a vaccine or a widespread and effective treatment of this disease," Kenney said.
"What we need to do is manage the risk and that's what our relaunch strategy is based on. Gradual, prudent steps to open up, and we're counting on Albertans to show us that great civic-minded spirit, that personal responsibility, that caring for others in the way they conduct themselves."
He said if the public immediately takes relaxed health orders as a "licence to let 'er rip" by not practicing good hygiene or holding mass gatherings, restrictions will be re-implemented.
"Guess what? We'll probably see a significant spike and then we'll have to come back in and shut a lot of things down again."
STAGE 1: PARKS, SURGERIES, RETAIL AND RESTAURANTS
The province's first steps will include resuming scheduled, non-urgent surgeries as early as May 4, along with services offered by sidelined health care workers like dentists, physiotherapists, speech pathologists, social workers and more.
Workers will have to continue to follow health guidelines set by their respective colleges.
Access to provincial parks and public lands will resume on May 1. Alberta Parks' online reservation system will once again be available May 14 for bookings beginning June 1.
Alberta Parks will not accept bookings from outside of the province, the government said, and group and comfort camping won't be offered.
Private and city campgrounds and parks can also operate beginning May 4, as long as campers and park users respect two-metre physical distancing rules.
Golf courses will be permitted to reopen May 2, though current guidelines mean clubhouses will have to stay closed.
If health orders continue to flatten the curve after the first steps are taken, Kenney said some businesses and facilities can start to resume operation as soon as May 14, including:
- retail stores like clothing, furniture and bookstores
- all farmers market vendors
- barber shops and hair sylists
- museums and art galleries
- additional scheduled surgeries like dental procedures, physio, chiropractic and optemetry
- daycare and out-of-school care, with limits on occupancy
- summer camps
- cafes, restaurants, lounges, bars and pubs at 50 per cent capacity
Kenney said the first phase of the plan will not change current public health measures including a limit on gatherings of more than 15 people, recreation facility closures, the cancellation of all mass gatherings like summer festivals and concerts, or in-person classes in K-12 schools.
Non-essential travel will still be discouraged and the government said it will keep advising employees who are able to continue working remotely.
Several safeguards will be put in place before stage 1 is implemented, Kenney said, including:
- increased COVID-19 testing capacity. Kenney has previously said he's aiming for 20,000 tests per day
- exposure contract tracing through technology like a new government app
- stronger border controls and airport screening for international passengers
- guidelines for using masks in crowded spaces like transit
He said any decision to relax more measures would be made with input from Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical health officer.
She said the reveal of the relaunch plan was a positive sign, but the fight is far from over.
"We must continue to use common sense to protect each other, and help prevent the spread," she said. "Please continue to wash your hands frequently, stay home when sick. Maintain physical distance and look out for each other in the days and weeks ahead."
STAGES 2 AND 3: MORE SURGERIES, PERSONAL SERVICES AND EVENTUALLY MASS GATHERINGS
Stage 2 of the strategy will see the potential reopening of K-12 schools with restrictions, though Kenney clarified students would not go back to class for the remainder of this school year.
He said classes for the next school year could begin earlier to make up for lost time, while summer school and other specialized programs may be able to go ahead sooner.
Additional surgeries and personal services like tanning salons, esthetics, skin and body treatments, manicures and pedicures, massage and reflexology will also be reintroduced in stage 2. It also includes the reopening of movie theatres with restrictions and some larger gatherings.
Finally, stage 3 – dependent on the success of stage 2 and other health factors — will reopen all businesses and services, larger gatherings including festivals, recreational facilities, nightclubs, arenas and conferences with restrictions in place.
The government has not specified a timeline for stages 2 and 3 of the strategy, as they're subject to change based on the success of stage 1 and whether or not Alberta is staying under projected hospitalizations, ICU admissions and new infection rates.
"Each phase will be monitored to determine whether to adjust restrictions up or down," Kenney said. "An outbreak may mean some restrictions need to be temporarily strengthened in a local area."
He also said he expected the gathering limit to increase from 15 at some point in the three-stage plan.
NDP SAYS PLAN DOESN'T ADDRESS WORKER SAFETY
Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley wasted no time hitting back at the relaunch plan, criticizing the UCP government for its perceived poor handling of COVID-19 outbreaks at the Cargill meat-processing plant in High River and JBS Food Canada plant in Brooks.
"We now have the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the entire continent at the Cargill meat plant in High River," Notley tweeted. "Concerns from workers at the plant many weeks ago fell on deaf ears. Much is the same at the JBS plant in Brooks, which is still open."
Cargill, which has seen 908 cases of COVID-19 among workers, had temporarily suspended operations but announced this week its plan to gradually reopen starting May 4. More than 600 workers have recovered from the disease.
There have also been 333 confirmed cases at JBS Food.
Two people have died in those outbreaks and many workers have expressed concern about resuming operations, Notley said.
"The premier's plan to reopen Alberta will not work if he continues to utterly ignore and dismiss the voices of those on the shop floor."
An Occupational Health and Safety investigation is underway at both plants.
ALBERTA COVID-19 NUMBERS ARE BELOW PROJECTIONS
Earlier this week, the premier revealed new modelling projections that showed efforts to curb the peak of the virus were working.
“The number of Albertans hospitalized and admitted to intensive care is well below what modeling originally projected,” he said.
The new probable projections suggest 596 people will be hospitalized at the peak of the virus, down from 818 people estimated in initial projections released at the start of the month. The new scenario also estimates 190 people will need critical care at the peak.
As of Thursday's update, 214 people have been hospitalized and 49 have been admitted to ICUs in Alberta. Of the 5,355 cases in the province, 89 people have died.
Kenney said the government will be closely monitoring the number of hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions, as well as the growth rate of COVID-19 cases including confirmed cases as a percentage of testing, to guide the relaunch strategy.