‘Hard for us to rationalize’: Politicians, business owners call for regional easing of COVID-19 restrictions in Alberta

CALGARY — Alberta decided Monday not to relax its current COVID-19 restrictions and while some Albertans applaud the move, others feel current measures are too punitive and they are pressing for a little more flexibility.

Having fewer than 300 people in hospital  with COVID-19 three weeks after Alberta moved to Step 2 of its reopening could have meant relaxing more rules, but the province hit pause as hospital projections show a possible rise. On Tuesday there was another spike in variants, hitting a record high of 197 new cases.

One quiet corner of Alberta is making some noise though. Medicine Hat and Cypress County combined have fewer than a dozen active cases, yet face the same restrictions as Alberta’s COVID-19 hotspots.

“Restrictions should be eased regionally,” said Drew Barnes the MLA for Cypress-Medicine Hat

“There’s a lot of disenchantment right now because it feels like twice the goalpost has been moved.”

Barnes has been pressing his United Conservative Party to do this for months because people in the area feel unduly lumped in with areas at higher risk.

“We need to focus on our other issues,” said Barnes adding the low case count there could allow them opportunities to focus on economic and mental health concerns.

On Monday, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said if more restrictions need to be added, those could be done based on region. Some are hoping for the same understanding when it comes to easing the rules.

“Restrictions based on region, whether it’s applying them or easing them, will make a lot of sense to give Albertans and Cypress-Medicine Hatters hope,” said Barnes.

Certain businesses are pressing too, feeling they don’t belong in Step Three of the province’s re-opening plan.

“It’s just hard for us to rationalize why theatres are viewed as this high-risk activity and why we’re not permitted to re-open while retail and restaurants stay open,” said Bill Walker, CEO of Landmark Cinemas.

While theatres in Alberta have been closed for months, Saskatchewan’s have been open since June.

“There’s no suspicion that theatres are a part of the problem in that province so it’s just really interesting to try and understand how every different government official is making their decision,” Walker said.

“In all the months that we’ve been open, with millions of guests coming through in the summer and fall, not once were contact tracing details requested of us by any provincial government.”

Movie companies say contact tracing, spacing, ventilation and timed entries make the business low-risk and high-reward for people looking for some sense of normalcy and that should be encouraged.

There is no sign of a normal Easter holiday with family and friends at this point, with no change to restrictions on indoor social gatherings.

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