Reopening put on pause as hospitalization count climbs

CALGARY — Albertans waiting to figure out whether a big Easter dinner with family and friends is finally possible discovered Monday that they can’t  send out invites yet.  

It has been three weeks since Alberta moved into Step 2 of Alberta’s relaunch plan, but with hospitalizations on the rise, health minister Tyler Shandro said Monday was not the time to relax restrictions, despite the key number falling below the benchmark of 300 that the province had set as the number that would trigger Step 3.

With hospitalizations at 280, but rising by 16, the health minister called it a warning sign that must be taken seriously.

“We expect to have 300 people in hospital most likely within a week,” Shandro said, “and that’s why we decided not to move to Step 3.”

Step three outlines easing restrictions for private indoor gatherings, in addition to youth and adult sports, casinos, places of worship, museums and cinemas.

Pausing that plan is a blow for businesses already closed for months including theatres.

“If a restaurant can be open, there is no explanation why theatres can’t be in that construct,” said Landmark Cinemas CEO Bill Walker. “Enjoy a silent experience, all sitting in one direction with space from strangers, in a room with independent HVAC, with 40-foot ceilings.”

Places of worship have only been allowed 15 per cent capacity inside, with safety measures in place, with no definitive word yet on whether that will be relaxed before Easter.

“I know in our people there’s a huge hunger to get back together but not to take any unnecessary risks,” said Crescent Heights Baptist Church senior pastor Tyler Graftaas. “We will be faithful to following public health measures and as leadership we will continue allowing people to have some interaction.”

The decision appeases doctors who have been warning about opening up any further.

ICU doctor Darren Markland said, “The rise of the variant is going to make this a different disease.

“This will spread faster, it’ll have more morbidity and potentially more mortality and we’re going to see younger people into the (intensive care) units.”

KENNEY URGES PATIENCE

While Albertans digest the latest move, Premier Kenney urged patience.

“The path forward on re-opening is predicated on declining hospitalizations, unfortunately we see the opposite now,” Kenney said.  “We know people are fed up with all of this, god knows we all are, but we have just a few weeks left before we can get a critical mass of the population innoculated, so please be careful.”

“There is no specific timeline when we might move forward,” he added. “It depends on the number of hospitalizations.”

Half the Albertans in hospital with COVID-19 are under the age of 65, with those younger people also making up almost 90 per cent of the people in an ICU bed with COVID-19.

As for adding restrictions, Shandro said “If it comes to that, the plan may be to target just a specific region of concern.”

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