Check against delivery.

Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone.

Before turning to today’s numbers, I would like to answer a few questions that I have heard recently.

There is some confusion about what is allowed to take place under the category of outdoor recreation.

First, I’ve been allowed whether shinny or hockey is allowed outside, even if it’s 4 on 4?

The answer is no. Any outdoor activity where individuals come within two metres of each other is not allowed.

Skating or other outdoor activities can continue with up to 10 people, but all members of different households must stay at least two metres apart the whole time.

We will be updating our website under sport and physical activities to address these questions and will be having discussions with law enforcement to ensure that the rules are clear.

Another question is whether individuals who have tested positive and gone into isolation need to be re-tested and get a negative result before returning to work or normal activities.

Again, the answer is no.

If you test positive and isolate for the required, mandatory period, there is no need to be tested again.

Evidence is clear that unless an individual has an immune compromising condition, they are not infectious to others after 10 days have passed from the start of their symptoms, as long as their symptoms have resolved.

Re-testing someone within 90 days of a positive test is not effective or appropriate, unless this test is ordered by their doctor.

It also is not an effective use of our lab teams, who could be spending their time and energy testing people who have COVID symptoms, or who are linked to an outbreak or who are a close contact of a confirmed case.

For employers seeking clarity around when staff can return to work, AHS does provide a text message to anyone who tests positive at the point in time when their isolation period is over and it is safe for them to get back to work.

On a related point, I also want to remind employers whose staff have tested positive, or who are a close contact of a case, that these staff are legally required to isolate at home until their isolation or quarantine period has ended.

They should not be pressured to return to work before this time, as this puts everyone in the workplace at risk.

Turning to today’s case numbers, over the last 24 hours, we have identified 1,240 new cases of COVID-19 in Alberta, and completed about 18,300 tests.  

This means our positivity rate currently stands at about 6.8%.

There are currently active alerts or outbreaks in 448 schools, or about 19% of all schools in the province.

Currently these schools have a combined total of 1,992 cases.

There are 795 people in hospital, including 151 who have been admitted to the ICU.

Sadly, 9 new deaths were reported to us in the last 24 hours.

My thoughts are with all those mourning the loss of a family member or friend, whether it is from COVID-19 or any other cause.  

Today I want to update you on a development that was first referenced last week.

As you likely know, this weekend the federal government restricted all incoming flights from the United Kingdom for 72 hours.

This is in response to a genetic variant of the virus that causes COVID-19 which is currently circulating in the UK.

At this time, this variant appears to be more easily transmitted from person to person, meaning it can possibly spread more widely in an exposed group of people.

While this is not fully confirmed, there is sufficient evidence to prompt action on this development.

It is important to know that, at this time, the variant does not appear to cause more severe symptoms.

It does not impact how the body responds to the virus, the lab testing performance, or the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccines.

The Public Health Agency of Canada is monitoring the situation closely.

They are working with various international partners, including the World Health Organization, to better understand this variant and its impacts, and to do ongoing assessment regarding interactions between the vaccine, lab tests and this variant.

So far, no variants with the same set of mutations have been identified in Canada.

The measures we already have in place to limit the spread of COVID-19 work against this variant as well.

It is not uncommon for new strains of viruses to emerge from time to time. However, we are taking this seriously.

That’s why we are asking any travellers who arrived from the United Kingdom within the past 14 days to immediately get tested for COVID-19 if they have not already done so.

This is recommended even if these travellers do not have symptoms.

Alberta Health Services will be contacting all travellers in this category and offering testing appointments.

As a reminder, quarantine is required for 14 days after arrival from anywhere outside Canada, unless individuals are participating in our border pilot project.

However, any travellers from the UK in the last 14 days who are participating in the border pilot must also immediately quarantine at this time, even if they have had a negative test.

As always, I would ask that all Albertans show kindness and support for anyone who’s returned from the UK or who is impacted by this call for testing.

These individuals have done nothing wrong.

Getting tested does not mean that they are automatically at risk.

We are being cautious to help protect our communities’ health.

This new strain is yet another reminder that we cannot let our guard down with COVID-19. 

This is a challenging and evolving virus, and it can and will spread quickly if given the chance.

After this weekend, we have now diagnosed more than 91,000 cases of COVID-19 in our province.

The R value for the last seven days is 0.92 in Alberta.

This includes an R value of 0.89 in Edmonton Zone and 0.97 in Calgary Zone.

The positive signs that I mentioned on Friday have continued through the weekend, but our situation is still serious.

Our new case numbers are still extremely high, and our health care system remains under severe strain.

This week, we must redouble our efforts and celebrate this early trend downwards, by continuing the actions that will eventually bring our hospitalization and ICU numbers low enough to support access to the system for all health care needs.

We have lived with this virus for 10 months.

We know how it spreads and we know that it is critical that we all reduce the spread as quickly as possible.

This week is another test for our province.

This is usually a time for many to relax and celebrate – but we must not relax our guard or gather with friends and family outside our households.

We know that celebrations can quickly turn to outbreaks if we fail to take the right precautions.

I know it is difficult, but our connections of love and caring for family and friends are as strong apart as they are together.

We are all in this together and, this week, that matters more than ever.

Thank you, and I’m happy to take questions.