The number of people in hospital with COVID-19 decreased slightly on Wednesday as Alberta’s vaccine passport program officially expired.
Premier Jason Kenney announced Tuesday that the restrictions exemption program would be lifted at midnight. The REP came into effect in September, and required Albertans to show proof of double vaccination or a negative rapid test result to obtain entry to businesses operating under the program.
There were 1,615 Albertans in hospital with COVID on Wednesday, a drop from 1,623 people Tuesday. Of those, 135 are being treating in intensive care. That’s a slight increase from 129 COVID-19 patients in Alberta ICUs Tuesday.
Eleven additional deaths were reported Wednesday, bringing the province’s death toll to 3,696.
Alberta reported 1,684 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 Wednesday from 5,748 tests. The positivity rate was 31.73 per cent.
The number of lab-confirmed active cases in Alberta now sits at 26,896, down from 28,265 lab-confirmed active cases Tuesday. Because of limited access to PCR testing, Alberta health officials have said the actual number of new and active cases in Alberta is much higher that what’s being publicly reported.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney explains timing of vaccine passport ending
There has been much reaction to the premier’s announcement regarding the end of the vaccine passport system.
The Calgary Chamber of Commerce slammed the decision to remove the REP immediately, calling it “akin to ripping the Band-Aid off before the wound has healed.”
The Alberta Hospitality Association, which represents restaurants and bar owners, wanted to see other restrictions — such as a liquor curfew, bans on live music and billiards and rules about how many people can be seated at one table — removed before the passport program.
At O’Byrne’s Irish Pub on Edmonton’s Whyte Avenue, the removal of the REP is “a lot of weight off our shoulders.”
While the business was not against the REP, Cathal O’Byrne said it felt as though it was their responsibility as a small business to make sure the province was vaccinated.
“Big box stores didn’t have to do it, retailers didn’t have to do it. It fell on the restaurant industry and that was really difficult for us,” he said.
“We had a lot of people who couldn’t figure out the QR code, couldn’t get it to work, were against the QR code. We had a lot of pushback. On social media, we had people write to us and say that they were never going to come here again, and that was really difficult for us. Customers who have said they were coming here for 15 years and then because we were participating in the REP, they were no longer going to come here.”
O’Byrne said the overall goal is to get back to normal, while also ensuring people don’t feel uncomfortable coming to their pub.
“I’m glad we’re moving forward,” he said. “We want everyone to come as comfortably as possible, move forward as comfortably as possible.”
Alberta restaurants and customers react to COVID-19 restriction changes
Wednesday night marks the return of food and beverage service at Rogers Place in Edmonton, where hockey fans have gone without snacks and drinks since early January.
Oilers fan Jesse Kushneryk admits he didn’t realize how much a beer and some food were a part of the game experience until he went to a game a few weeks ago.
“I sat down in my seat when I got to the game and I literally didn’t get up from my seat until the end of the third. It was weird. I was hungry and I was thirsty,” he said. “It was really, honestly, a terrible experience.
“It’s nice to have those escapes, those enjoyable experiences where I can get a beer and watch the boys go out there and try and win some hockey games. I am excited for that for sure.”
Kushneryk is cautious though and hopes this is one small step toward a return to normalcy.
“I just hope it’s a first step in the right direction, and I hope there are many more things that go back to normal as they’re safe to do so.”
In a post on social media, Rogers Place said it won’t be able to offer its full food service right away as it ramps up service again. It will have a full line of beverages available at select concessions, but said only popcorn and small snacks will be for sale.
“We expect full concession options and services to resume soon.”
Edmonton exploring its own municipal restrictions exemption program
Capacity at the arena remains capped at 50 per cent for now, but fans no longer need to show proof of vaccination or a negative test result to attend the game. Masks remain mandatory indoors.
While the REP has been lifted, alcohol sales must still come to an end at 11 p.m. at establishments provincewide.
Rob Browatzke at Evolution Wonderlounge in downtown Edmonton is looking forward to the next step when that restriction is lifted.
“We are liquor primary — a dance club and entertainment venue. We make our money from selling booze and if we can only sell booze until 11 p.m., we’re very, very limited in our ability to bring in revenue at all,” he said.
“I’ve talked to most of the customers. They want the liquor curfew gone and they want to be able to dance again.”
Browatzke said the past two years have been extremely difficult and his business is “hemorrhaging money at this point.”
“If we had known in March 2020 that it wasn’t just going to be two weeks, we might have just given up then. We’ve taken on a huge amount of debt, we’ve borrowed what we need to borrow, we’ve done what we need to survive… we are out of options. We need to have the revenue stream coming back.
“We just want to survive.”
Kenney said the province would take a three-step approach to lifting COVID-19 public health restrictions, outlined below:
Effective Feb. 8 at 11:59 p.m.:
- Restrictions Exemption Program (REP) ends, along with most associated restrictions.
- Entertainment venues will continue to have some specific rules in place:
— Restrictions on sale of food and beverages and consumption while seated in audience settings will be removed.
— Restrictions on closing times, alcohol service, table capacity in restaurants and interactive activities will remain in force.
- For all businesses, venues and facilities – whether they were previously eligible for the REP or not – capacity limits are removed, except for:
— Facilities with capacity of 500 to 1,000, which will be limited to 500.
— Facilities with capacity of 1,000-plus, which will be limited to 50 per cent.
Effective at 11:59 p.m. on Feb. 13:
- Masks will no longer be required for all children and youth in schools.
- Masks will no longer be required in any setting for children aged 12 and under.
Effective March 1:
- Any remaining provincial school requirements (including cohorting) will be removed.
- Screening prior to youth activities will no longer be required.
- Capacity limits will be lifted for all venues.
- Limits on social gatherings will be removed.
- Provincial mask mandate will be removed.
- Mandatory work from home removed.
To be determined based on hospitalization rates continuing to trend downwards
- COVID-specific measures in continuing care will be removed.
- Mandatory isolation becomes a recommendation only.
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