The Alberta government has banned dine-in service at restaurants and bars, among other strict new measures, in attempts to curb the province’s soaring COVID-19 infection rates.
The closures taking effect at midnight Saturday include all restaurants, pubs, bars, lounges and cafes to in-person service. Only takeout, curbside pickup and delivery services will be permitted.
The province has also imposed a mandatory provincewide mask requirement under new restrictions, as well as banning all outdoor and indoor social gatherings and imposing mandatory work-from-home measures.
Both the mask mandate and the ban on social gatherings take effect immediately. The work-from-home measures — and other new restrictions — will go into effect at midnight on Saturday. Farms are excluded from the mask mandate.
On Tuesday, Alberta reported 1,727 new cases of the illness and set another record with 20,388 active cases. Across the province, 654 people were being treated in hospitals for COVID-19, including 112 in intensive care units.
Another nine deaths were added to the toll on Tuesday, bringing the total to 640 since March. The hospitalization numbers have grown by 600 per cent since the last week of October, Kenney said.
“I also understand that to many people these policies, these restrictions, seem unjust,” he said. “I’ve made no secret of the fact that Alberta’s government has been reluctant to use extraordinary powers to damage or destroy livelihoods in this way.”
Kenney said his government sees the latest restrictions as the only way to try to bend the infection curve.
“I know how devastating today’s announcement and these measures are for tens of thousands of small business owners who have been coping through an impossibly difficult year, for hundreds of thousands of their employees and so many others who have found themselves without work,” Kenney said.
“But we are now at a place where viral transmission is so widespread in the community that it does not any longer matter how careful business operators are. Because community transmission means that staff and clients, the general public, represent a risk of transmission.”
The mandatory restrictions will be in place for at least four weeks.
Retail businesses, as of Saturday at midnight, will be allowed to remain open but must reduce capacity to 15 per cent of the occupancy allowed under the fire code. Places of worship will face the same restriction. Hotels may remain open but must follow all relevant restrictions.
New support for small business
At Tuesday’s news conference, Doug Schweitzer, the minister of jobs, economy and innovation, said the government will expand the Small and Medium Enterprise Relaunch Grant, with a new lower threshold and increased grant amounts.
“We have reports saying that 40 per cent of these small businesses may not be able to turn the lights back on if we don’t provide them with supports,” Schweitzer said. “That’s the extent of what we’re facing here in our province — 40 per cent may not come back, unless we step in and provide them with supports now.
“So that’s why the premier, our cabinet, last night met as a team to try to figure out how we could support them to get them through to the other side.”
Businesses will be eligible to apply for a second payment through the program, for a total of up to $20,000 in potential funding each, up from the original $5,000. Up to 15,000 more businesses may be eligible for government funding, the province said in a news release.
The program will also expand to include businesses that have experienced revenue losses of at least 30 per cent due to the pandemic, lowering the threshold from the former requirement of 40 per cent revenue losses.