Fireside brews are out but outdoor skating and walks are OK, province says

CALGARY — While you won’t be able to meet up with anyone outside your household for leisure gatherings this holiday season, the province says you won’t be in trouble if you gather in outdoor areas for “fitness-type activities.”

Premier Jason Kenney, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw and Health Minister Tyler Shandro laid out the province’s updated rules regarding outdoor events during Tuesday’s announcement.

According to the rules from Nov. 27, the province limited outdoor gatherings to no more than 10 people. Now, no outdoor gatherings of any kind are allowed.

Unlike the other restrictions announced during the update, the ban on outdoor gatherings is effective immediately, Kenney said, adding that such situations lead to the largest increases in cases.

“It’s when we let our guard down, it’s when we relax with people that we are close to,” he said. “It’s when transmission most easily happens.”

Hinshaw did point to an important distinction between outdoor gatherings and outdoor activities, which are still allowed under the Public Health Act, as long as guidelines are properly followed.

“What we have not prohibited, is the ability for people to do fitness activities,” she said.

“People can skate on outdoor rinks as long as there’s two metres of distancing between them if they’re from different households.”

Under those same guidelines, Hinshaw said similar activities, like going out for walks, is also allowed.

Shandro said the aim of the new restrictions was to “change the behaviour” of Albertans.

“We’re asking Albertans not to socially gather, the same as we’ve asked them, in the past, not to socially gather indoors,” he said. “It’s a matter of people making the decision not to gather socially outdoors.”

Bylaw officers aren’t looking to punish people for anything like chance meetings, Kenney said.

“I don’t think any bylaw officers going to ticket you if you say ‘hi’ to your friends as you pass them on the sidewalk or in the park, ski hill or on an outdoor skating rink. But, if you call up 20 of your closest personal friends and have some beers around the fire pit, that is definitely a social gathering.”

ZOOLIGHTS A GO FOR NOW

When it comes to outdoor activities in the city of Calgary and area, officials with the Calgary Zoo say the ZOOLIGHTS event is still going ahead as planned.

The facility has added new restrictions to the park, such as closing all indoor animal habitats and buildings with a number of exceptions, but officials say they are working with Alberta Health Services in response to the new rules announced Tuesday.

“We’re working with AHS to understand how we can align to the new provincial health restrictions and will communicate with our community when we know more,” said Alison Archambault, director of brand and engagement with the Calgary Zoo.

Meanwhile, the Airdrie Festival of Lights Society, the group that runs a similar Christmas display, shut off the lights Tuesday night in response to the new rules.

The volunteer-run organization, which had to make a number of changes to the event due to overcrowding on its opening weekend, says it is working with health officials and will share a further update soon.

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