By Jake Cardinal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
(ANNews) – Since Monday, students and youth 12 years and younger attending in-person classes are no longer required to wear face coverings as Alberta’s second reopening begins.
Other health measures in the province that were lifted include: the restrictions exemption program; restrictions on food and beverage at entertainment venues; and capacity limits for all venues, except those that have a large capacity.
The decision to lift public health measures comes after Alberta premier Jason Kenney announced that the province would be ending all pandemic restrictions within the next little while — considering that COVID-19 indicators, such as hospital capacity, remain stable or are reducing.
Meanwhile, two Alberta First Nation chiefs are saying that it’s too soon to lift the health measures on their First Nations. Chief Randy Ermineskin told CBC News that the Maskwacis Nations are still trying to keep Covid-19 from spreading.
“I know the reports said that in the major centres they’ve got control of it, but the First Nations are kind of next in line to see a surge,” he said. They will be closely monitoring their situation in the days and weeks ahead, he added.
“We want to assert our own sovereignty and say we understand where they make decisions, but we have to look after our own people and our own health and well-being.”
Frog Lake First Nation Chief Greg Desjarlais said the decision to remove restrictions in Alberta was premature. He told CBC News that his nation is currently on a “circuit breaker” to stop the spread of COVID-19 and the school has been closed for over a month. He said that the school will continue to follow COVID-19 protocols when it reopens.
“We take temperatures, we take the names, we have bus monitors, we clean our buses, so we do take precaution, even though many 12 and under aren’t vaccinated,” said Desjarlais.
Health Minister Jason Copping has said that the province’s hospital admissions for the virus peaked more than two weeks ago and that the number has be steadily dropping.
“Provincially, they’re down by nearly a quarter,” he said.
The decision to eliminate most restrictions is reminiscent of Alberta’s “open for summer” reopening plan last year, which resulted in incredibly high amounts of COVID cases and ultimately, a reinstatement of the lifted health measures.
However, Kenney believes that the province must learn to live with COVID-19.
“The threat of COVID-19 to public health no longer outweighs the hugely damaging impact of health restrictions on our society, on people’s mental health, on their emotional wellbeing, on our broader social health,” Kenney said.
“So now is the time to begin learning to live with COVID.”
Fortunately, this time around, 86.3 per cent of Albertans have had two doses of the vaccines — with approximately 90 per cent having had at least one.
To put those numbers into perspective, the initial reopening needed just 70 per cent of Albertans aged 12 and over to have had a first dose of vaccine.
Much like the “open for summer” plan, the current reopening will be taking place in stages, with the current lift on restrictions making up stage 1.
Stage 2 is set to take effect on March 1 and will remove indoor masking, remaining school requirements, youth screening for entertainment and sports, removal of capacity limits on all large venues and entertainment venues, limits on indoor and outdoor gatherings lifted and mandatory work from home lifted.
However, this stage is dependent on hospitalizations trending downward.
Stage 3 currently does not have a date, but it has been reported that people will no longer be required to isolate if they catch COVID-19, and COVID operational and outbreak protocols will be lifted in continuing care facilities.
Meanwhile, the rest of Canada seems to be echoing the premier’s sentiments, as Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam, said of the virus, “What we need to do going forward, as we emerge out of this Omicron wave, is recognize this virus is not going to disappear.
“We do need to get back to some normalcy.”
It has also been reported that Ontario will be removing their proof-of-vaccination requirements and lift social gathering limits for businesses.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford said, “Given how well Ontario has done in the Omicron wave we are able to fast-track our reopening plan.”