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Thank you, Tom, and good afternoon everyone.
Before we begin, I’d like to thank all those in the province who are finding new ways to celebrate the Lunar New Year.
I know this is an important holiday for many people in our province. It’s usually a time for new beginnings, big family gatherings and shared meals.
Since that isn’t possible this year, countless groups have put plans in place for safe, meaningful activities that respect the public health restrictions in place.
From virtual cooking classes to help prepare traditional dishes, to dance performances and virtual family dinners, these examples demonstrate that we can still celebrate important milestones together while staying physically apart.
I want to thank everyone celebrating the 2021 Lunar New Year for continuing to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Turning to today’s update, we have now administered more than 135,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
More than 42,000 Albertans have now been fully immunized with two doses.
Over the last 24 hours, we have identified 351 new cases of COVID-19, and completed about 10,000 tests.
That puts our current positivity rate at about 3.5%.
Looking to schools, there are currently active alerts or outbreaks in 311 schools, which is about 13% of schools in our province.
These schools have had a combined total of 897 cases since early January.
Of these, only about 155 are believed to be cases of in-school transmission.
Currently, there are 397 people in hospital, including 71 admitted to the ICU.
Our numbers continue to decline, but there are still as many people in hospital today as there were on Nov. 23rd.
This is a reminder that we must keep this downward trend occurring.
Sadly, I must announce that 16 new deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours.
Those lost to COVID-19 were between the ages of 53 and 97.
My thoughts are with anyone mourning the passing of a family member, friend or neighbour, from any cause.
We continue to monitor closely for variants and to limit COVID-19’s spread in Alberta.
I know that many have wondered what the recently announced federal government requirements around international travel will mean for our border pilot and for travellers returning to our province.
As you know, in the coming weeks, all travellers arriving at the airport from outside of Canada will be required to undergo a COVID-19 test on entry at the border and to quarantine at a federally designated hotel.
Thanks to the testing processes already in place because of our border pilot, Alberta’s labs are well positioned to support this new federal requirement.
Also, starting February 15, travellers arriving via a land border crossing will be required to show proof of a negative PCR test completed in the United States within the previous 72 hours.
In light of these new federal requirements, as well as the growing spread of variant strains in other parts of the world, when the new federal restrictions come into place, we will be suspending the Alberta border pilot at the Calgary Airport.
This means that all air travellers arriving to Alberta from outside of Canada will need to comply with the mandatory federal testing requirement and 14-day quarantine period at that time.
The border pilot will continue at the Coutts border entry until a decision is made by the federal government on whether additional restrictions are needed at land-border crossings.
I would like acknowledge the frontline workers from Alberta Health Services, the Calgary International Airport, the airlines, as well as the University of Calgary, for helping to make this pilot a success.
I also want to reiterate the important role that this border pilot has played in the last three months in preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the province.
Outside of the border pilot, individuals who return from travelling internationally are required to quarantine in their homes when they come back to Alberta, or anywhere else in Canada.
They would not usually be tested unless experiencing symptoms during their quarantine. The result was that only a small proportion of returning travellers were typically tested on arrival.
Under the border pilot, since November, we have been able to test more than 49,000 returning travellers as soon as they arrived.
The positive cases identified from this testing have included many who were not showing any symptoms.
We have also been able to screen all positive cases from this pilot for variants, helping prevent them from spreading widely.
We will begin the policy work with the federal government and local partners so Alberta has a plan to replace the current requirements well before they are set to expire, and to ensure the safe restart of travel when the time is right.
Finally, I’d like to end today by asking all Albertans to be extra safe during the upcoming long weekend.
Tomorrow is the start of the Lunar New Year, Sunday is Valentine’s Day and, of course, Monday is Family Day.
In a typical year, we would be spending this long weekend gathering with our closest family and friends.
In fact, we’d all be encouraged to gather and cherish the chance to connect.
However, this is anything but a typical time.
Just like other recent holidays, we need to celebrate this long weekend differently.
This year, I’m asking Albertans to celebrate by staying close to home and connecting with their friends, family and community in other ways.
By not gathering together in-person with individuals outside our household, we’re not giving COVID-19 a chance to spread.
If you plan to meet someone, please do it outdoors, with no more than 10 people, staying 2 metres apart at all times.
I know that many people want to gather with friends and extended family in restaurants and inside homes, but that is still against the rules.
Our numbers are declining, but this virus is still here, and cases can rise quickly if given the chance.
By choosing safe activities, and by making safe choices that prevent the spread, we can all keep cases and hospitalizations trending downwards.
This is the best way to keep ourselves, our loved ones and our communities safe.
Thank you and I am happy to take questions.