Alberta will move to Step 2 of its plan to ease COVID-19 restrictions on March 1, Premier Jason Kenney announced Saturday.
Step 2 will see the removal of many long-standing public health measures: most masking requirements, indoor and outdoor social gathering limits, work-from-home requirements and capacity limits at large venues.
“All signs here, and across the world, suggest the worst of COVID-19 is behind us,” Kenney said. “The pressure on our health-care system is easing.”
“There is no evidence at this point to suggest that our transition to normal is negatively affecting our health-care system.”
Kenney made the announcement from Grande Prairie where he was also marking the ceremonial opening of the city’s new hospital which began seeing patients last December following a decade of construction.
Other restrictions removed include mandatory working from home, school restrictions and liquor service rules in restaurants and bars.
Masking will continue to be required in high-risk and continuing care settings as well as on public transit but not inside taxis or ride-hailing service vehicles like Uber.
Isolation and quarantine requirements for those who test positive, have symptoms or are exposed to COVID-19 remain in effect.
“Increasingly we have to shift to moving the responsiblity from the entire society, to a much more focused approach based on personal responsibility,” Kenney said.
“We don’t think it’s justifiable now to impose mandates on the entire society.”
On Feb. 8, Alberta announced three steps to lift COVID-19 restrictions starting with removing its Restrictions Exemptions Program and masking at schools.
Kenney tweeted last Monday that he would announce the move to Step 2 today. The province’s reopening plan states Step 2 will begin Tuesday contingent on a falling number of COVID-19 hospitalizations.
The number of COVID-19 patients in hospital reached a record high 1,680 on Feb. 7, but the seven-day average of hospitalizations has declined for close to three weeks since then.
Similarly, the seven-day average for test positivity has gradually fallen after peaking in mid-January.
The pandemic’s fifth wave has produced far more hospitalizations compared to previous waves, with the 39 highest patient counts of the pandemic all coming in 2022.
The most recent hospitalization count, reported on Friday, shows 1,295 COVID-19 patients in hospital.
That’s still well above the record count from all of the prior four waves, set on Sept. 27, 2021 when there were 1,129 in hospital.
Despite the change to masking requirements, face coverings will still be required through the city of Edmonton, where the mandate won’t be lifted until the city has 28 consecutive days with an active case rate below 100 per 100,000 residents.
However, the city’s case count remains well above that benchmark, with Friday’s data showing 184.3 active cases per 100,000 residents.
Limits to testing capacity and eligibility mean the actual count of active COVID-19 cases is likely significantly higher.
Step 3 in the government’s plan includes the removal of mandatory isolation for those testing positive as well as ending measures for public transit and also for continuing and acute care facilities.
The timeline for Step 3 is still to be determined with the government saying the timing will be contingent on hospitalization rates continuing to trend downwards.