Check against delivery.

Thank you, Minister, and good afternoon everyone.

Before providing today’s update, I want to address concern about an outbreak of the P1 variant that was identified over the weekend.

I know there has been concern that more information was not shared with Albertans when we first provided information about this outbreak on Twitter over the weekend.

I want to be clear that, while we are concerned about this outbreak, we should not lose sight of the fact that these P1 cases are a tiny fraction of the thousands of cases reported over the weekend.

We are still learning about the characteristics that the P1 variant has, but we know for sure that all COVID-19 cases have the potential to cause severe illness and even death.

It is not clear yet if P1 causes more severe outcomes than other strains, but we do know that it, like B.1.1.7 variant is more infectious.

We need to make sure we are looking at this big picture when considering all of the variants that we are seeing in the province, and taking actions every day to prevent spread of all strains of COVID-19.

Turning to today’s update, we have now administered more than 734,000 doses of vaccine in the province.

Over the last 24 hours, we have identified 931 new cases of COVID-19, and completed about 9,100 tests. 

This puts our positivity rate at about 10.2%.

Over the last 24 hours, we have identified 676 new variants of concern.

There are currently outbreaks or alerts in 413 schools, which is 17% of all the schools in the province.

There are 328 people in hospital for COVID-19 treatment, including 76 admitted to the ICU.

Sadly, 3 additional deaths were reported to Alberta Health in the last 24 hours. These people’s lives mattered and they will be missed.

My thoughts are with anyone who has lost a loved one during the COVID-19 pandemic, whether to the virus or any other cause.

I also want to let you know that, due to an increase in COVID-19 cases in the Bow Valley area including Banff, Lake Louise and Canmore, including three variant cases, AHS is working closely with the operators of Lake Louise and Sunshine Village to conduct on-site and community testing of all employees and contractors.

At this stage of the investigation there is no identified single event or cause for this increase in cases.

My local colleagues are working hard to prevent future spread and support everyone involved.

At this time, we are not recommending precautionary COVID-19 testing for anyone who has visited or skied in the Banff-Canmore area recently.

However, if you are symptomatic, as we always advise, stay home, isolate and arrange for testing.

As the Premier noted, cases continued to rise over the weekend.  

Our active cases have now risen by 27% during the last week alone.

Today, about 43% of all active cases are variants of concern, and that figure is rising sharply.

I know that many people will be disappointed that we are once again forced to implement aggressive public health measures.

I know that bringing in new restrictions can be frustrating when it feels like we are so close to the end.

It’s natural to be frustrated, and to be sick and tired of this pandemic. We all wish these measures were not necessary.

But we are at a critical juncture. In the last week alone, we have diagnosed more than 6,700 cases of COVID-19.

Our hospitalizations, ICU admissions and positivity rate have all increased sharply.

If we do not take action, fatalities will also rise in the coming weeks.

As I mentioned last week, variants of concern present a new challenge, one that we cannot ignore.

These variants are not only more contagious, but also, in the case of B.1.1.7, more likely to cause severe illness.

This means that as cases rise an even higher percentage of younger cases are likely to need hospital care.

The good news is that we have shown, time and time again, that these measures work.

By taking widespread steps to limit in-person interactions across society, we stop the spread.

It is our best path to reducing spread in the short term, while vaccines offer the long-term hope of resuming something closer to normal life in the months ahead.

The challenge now is to dig in and bend down the curve one last time.

If we can stop this sharp increase we are seeing and break the chains of transmission, as well as continuing to get vaccinated when we are eligible, then we will save lives and get back to normal as quickly as possible.

If we do not keep cases low now, then it will take longer for us to see the benefits of the vaccine, and we will be dealing with this pandemic into the summer months, which none of us want to see.

This has been a challenging pandemic, and we have one more hill to climb.

I ask all Albertans to do their part and abide by the restrictions in place to avoid another surge of cases that will take months to get back under control.

As I said more than a year ago, I believe in Albertans and the power of our collective actions.

Together, we can slow the spread once again and keep cases low for just a few months more.

Thank you and we’re happy to take questions.