Expressing fears that Alberta’s health-care system may soon be overwhelmed, Premier Jason Kenney has expanded a 15-person limit on social gatherings.
The restriction, which previously applied to Calgary and Edmonton, will now be imposed on every community on the government’s COVID-19 watch list.
The list features communities with 50 cases or more per 100,000 people.
As of the most recent update, Red Deer, Ponoka County, the City of Camrose and Kneehill County all fall under that category.
The government announced 609 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, a drop from the 802 cases reported Thursday.
“If these numbers continue to grow at the current pace, they will put our health-care system at risk. They will put our economy at risk and our loved ones at risk,” Kenney said.
“Every Albertan needs to be concerned about these numbers… this is a turning point. If we don’t bend the curve now, we will face tougher choices in the days ahead.”
The restriction applies to parties and informal family gatherings, as well as weddings, funerals and banquets. It does not apply to restaurants and fitness centres, or seated events such as sports and shows.
As justification for not taking more stringent measures, such as a lockdown, Kenney said that just 0.7 per cent of identifiable COVID transmission occurred in restaurants and similar businesses.
Kenney added that sweeping lockdowns “indiscriminately violate people’s rights and destroy livelihoods.”
He recommended all Albertans wear a mask in indoor settings.
Red Deer city council will receive a COVID-19 update on Monday from the city manager and will be asked to set a special meeting for a further report.
“This is a fluid situation that we are monitoring on a daily basis,” Mayor Tara Veer said in a statement late Friday afternoon.
“The city’s emergency operations centre has been, and will remain, in close contact with Alberta Health officials, and will assess the need for additional safety measures in our community, depending on recommendations of the health authority.”
Veer said the precautions could include enhancements to the city’s existing face-covering bylaw, tightening restrictions at city facilities, or any other gathering limits mandated by Alberta Health.
Kenney said eight additional deaths were reported over the past two days, bringing the death toll in the province to 351.
There are 171 cases in hospital and 33 in ICU.
No new COVID-19 case numbers for communities were provided Friday. Those numbers are expected to be updated Monday.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said the province is still experiencing problems with its data system and is still only able to provide a general update on the case numbers for the province.
She said in addition to the health measures the premier advised of Friday, Albertans need to take personal responsibility for fighting the virus.
“It will take all of us working together in being as careful as possible to reverse this trend, but it is possible.
“It has been a challenging year, but one thing remains true: we are in this together and we are strongest together,” she said.