Respite from more of the regulations in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is coming a week earlier than first expected.
Alberta’s Stage 2 relaunch has been moved up to Friday, instead of June 19. The services opening also include some that were originally slated for Stage 3.
“Albertans should be very proud of their response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Premier Jason Kenney on Tuesday.
“We’ve come through it better than most; far better than most.
“We’re effectively containing the virus as best as possible and, as a result, I’m very happy to announce that Alberta is accelerating our relaunch strategy further, to open our economy.”
Stage 2 reopenings include libraries, movie theatres, community halls, wellness services such as massage and acupuncture, and personal services such as esthetics, cosmetic skin and body treatments, manicures, pedicures, waxing, facial treatment and artificial tanning.
This stage of relaunch also includes more surgeries and the opening of schools for requested diploma exams and summer school, following guidance.
Indoor recreation and team sports – including use of pools, gyms and arenas – casinos and bingo halls (except table games) and VLTs in restaurants, which were originally set for Stage 3, are also allowed to open Friday.
Reg Warkentin, policy and advocacy manager at the Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce, welcomed the province’s decision and said it echoes the sentiment the group has heard from its members.
“They’re ready to get going and they’re able to meet the various health requirements in order to do so in a safe and ordely fashion,” said Warkentin, adding the decision will help the local economy.
“People need a sense of normalcy, people want more human contact, whether it’s at their churches, or at the games, or at restaurants.”
Citing results from two recent surveys conducted by the chamber, he said the majority of businesses are able to survive “only so long” with the current restrictions.
“So for them to resume normal operations is key to getting people back to work,” he said.
All the renewed activities and services will have to follow public health guidelines, including physical distancing, frequent cleaning and use of face coverings where appropriate.
The government predicts the number of cases of the virus will go up as Albertans enjoy more freedom this summer.
“There will be more cases, more hospitalizations, and sadly, there will be more deaths,” said Kenney.
“But if we stay vigilant, and disciplined, if we stay dedicated, especially to protecting the most vulnerable, we will be able to continue lifting restrictions and expanding opportunities throughout the relaunch.”
To those people who are worried about the spread of the virus as the economy reopens, Kenney says “keep calm and carry on.”
“The issue is not a small increase of positive cases from time to time. The issue is whether or not our health-care system becomes overwhelmed,” he explained, adding the acute care beds, the spaces in intensive care units and hundreds of ventilators in the province were never used in the past three months.
“What we need to do is support each other in using these common-sense guidelines and enjoy life,” the premier said.
The 50 per cent capacity limit for provincial campgrounds is also being lifted, as part of the relaunch starting Friday.
Over the coming days, the online reservation system will be updated and sites will come online in phases. By July 1, all camping sites will be open for reservations.
Events and gatherings can be larger in Stage 2: the maximum number of people that can gather in an indoor social gathering event such as weddings, funerals and birthday parties is 50.
Outdoor events and indoor seated events, including weddings and funerals, are allowed 100 people.
There is no cap on the number of people who can gather in a worship setting, restaurants, casinos and bingo halls, as long as physical distancing is maintained.
There is more flexibility for so-called cohort groups – small groups of people whose members do not always keep two metres apart: a household can increase its close interactions with other households to a maximum of 15 people, performers can have a cohort of up to 50 people (cast members or performers), sports teams can play in region-only cohorts of up to 50 players (mini leagues) and people could be part of a sports/performing and household cohort.