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'Open for summer plan' hinges on vaccination rates

Restrictions will be eased as more Albertans get their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, with a complete reopening expected for early July.
The province has set a 70 per cent vaccination rate for a complete reopening of the province this summer.

ALBERTA - A three-step reopening strategy that is being labelled as Alberta's "Open for Summer Plan" was announced on Wednesday, laying the groundwork for a full provincial reopening that could be realized in just a matter of weeks.

Premier Jason Kenney described the plan as "stepping into the warm light of summer," and noted that events such as weddings, backyard barbecues, and the Calgary Stampede could soon be a reality as the plan moves forward.

But, the success of the plan relies heavily Albertans, and each step is tied to the percentage of Albertans who have received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Stage 1 will begin two weeks after 50 per cent of Albertans age 12-plus have received at least one dose of vaccine and COVID-19 hospitalizations are below 800 and declining. The province has already met these standards, with 58 per cent of Albertans having received their first dose of the vaccine at the time of the announcement on May 26.

Stage 2 will begin two weeks after 60 per cent of Albertans age 12-plus have received at least one dose of vaccine, and COVID-19 hospitalizations are below 500, and declining. Kenney said this threshold could be met as soon as Thursday, based on the number of appointments that had already been booked.

Stage 3 of the reopening will begin two weeks after 70 per cent of Albertans age 12-plus have received at least one dose of vaccine. This last stage would be a complete reopening of the province, with no limits on gatherings and the mandatory mask mandate would also be lifted across the province.

Starting as early as this week, the capacity limit for worship services will increase to 15 per cent of fire code occupancy on May 28. Next week, outdoor social gatherings, with distancing, will be allowed to include up to 10 people, although indoor gatherings are still not permitted.

Outdoor patio dining can resume with a maximum of four people per table, as of June 1.

Outdoor physical, performance and recreational activities will be permitted with up to 10 distanced people, for all ages, as of Monday.

Retail can increase to 15 per cent of fire code occupancy next week, while physical distancing will continue to be encouraged. Personal and wellness services can reopen, by appointment, on June 1.

Stage 2 will be a "big step forward," according to Kenney. The Premier anticipates to hit Stage 2 in mid-June. This stage will allow larger public outdoor gatherings to take place; indoor fitness can resume; movie theatres, libraries and more will also be allowed to reopen. 

Outdoor social gatherings will increase to 20 people, restaurants will be able to seat tables with up to six people indoors or outdoors, and retail occupancy will also increase. 

"Indoor and outdoor youth and adult sports resume with no restrictions," according to the Government of Alberta. And, "Post-secondary institutions can resume in-person learning."

The work-at-home order will be lifted in Stage 2, but it will still be recommended to allow people to work from home, when possible.

When the province hits 70 per cent of eligible Albertans vaccinated, "All restrictions are lifted, including the ban on indoor social gatherings."

Isolation requirements for confirmed cases of COVID-19 and some protective measures in continuing care settings will remain in place during Stage 3.

Kenney noted that if more Albertans get vaccinated, Stage 3 could happen as early as June 28. He encouraged Albertans to do their part and get vaccinated. 

The Premier asked Albertans who are already vaccinated to encourage others to do the same and "promote protection."

"Now is our time, Alberta," said Kenney, on Wednesday. He asked people to come together for the common good, saying, "It's not just about you."

Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 will continue to be monitored as the province takes steps in its reopening.

Small business support

The province also extended the the Small and Medium Enterprise Relaunch Grant (SMERG) on Wednesday. 

"Extending the application intake enables organizations subsequently affected by the May 2021 health orders to apply for this additional COVID relief funding. The program budget remains at $350 million," according to the provincial government.

“Alberta businesses have made sacrifices to stop the spike of COVID-19. Your efforts have made a difference, and we know we will soon be able to begin to lift restrictions and allow businesses to operate at full capacity. As more Albertans are vaccinated, I am hopeful that this is the last time we need to extend the SMERG program," said Doug Schweitzer, Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation.

SMERG offers financial assistance to Alberta businesses, cooperatives and non-profit organizations with fewer than 500 employees that have faced restrictions or closures due to COVID-related public health orders, and have experienced revenue losses of at least 30 per cent.

Janice Huser

About the Author: Janice Huser

Janice Huser has been with the St. Paul Journal since 2006. She is a graduate of the SAIT print media journalism program, is originally from St. Paul and has a passion for photography.
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