Check against delivery.
Good evening, fellow Albertans.
Our province has entered a critical stage of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like most places around the world, the third wave has been with us for a while now, but it has reached new heights in Alberta recently.
We have set case records.
What’s more concerning, we have also set a record for the number of Albertans with COVID in intensive care.
We have always sought to protect both lives and livelihoods throughout this pandemic.
This has meant resisting pressure to implement widespread lockdown policies – recognizing their severe impact on peoples’ lives.
Instead, Alberta has taken a balanced approach, following the evidence and applying targeted restrictions designed to limit viral spread. From day one, our goals have been to avoid large scale loss of life, to keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed, while minimizing the damage of restrictions on our broader society.
Governments must not impair peoples’ rights, or their livelihoods, unless it is absolutely necessary to save lives, and in this case to prevent a disaster from unfolding in our hospitals.
Unfortunately, that is the situation we are facing today.
The arrival of highly transmissible COVID variants in Alberta is putting real pressure on our health care system.
Despite 64% of Albertans over the age of 50 having received at least one dose of a vaccine, the disease continues to spread at an alarming rate – especially amongst younger people.
Let me walk you through the numbers.
Today, we have 671 people in hospital with COVID-19, 150 of them in intensive care.
But, of course, we also have to treat non Covid patients, meaning that there are a total of 226 Albertans in ICU right now.
That’s far more than the total number of ICU beds that we would have available in a typical year.
Alberta Health Service has worked hard to develop surge capacity, so if pressed we can open as many as 425 ICU beds. But that would require mass cancellations of surgeries and other care that people are counting on.
If exponential growth of Covid-19 in Alberta continues, it would begin to push the outer limits of our hospital capacity within weeks.
Let me be clear: we will not permit our health care system to be overwhelmed. We must not, and will not force our doctors and nurses to decide who gets care, and who doesn’t.
That is why we must act now to stop the spike.
Earlier today, the Emergency Management Cabinet Committee approved a set of new public health measures to stop the spike of COVID-19 in our province.
These stepped-up measures will take effect province wide, with the exception of a few communities that have very low levels of spread.
Let me begin with the most difficult decision.
Starting this Friday May 6, Kindergarten to Grade 12 will move to at-home learning until Tuesday May 25, after the long weekend. I know this is a real disruption for both kids and parents. But with the current level of community spread, 80,000 students and staff are in self-isolation, and we will soon reach a point where many schools will not be able to operate. This two-week reset will allow schools to come back for in-classroom instruction for the rest of the academic year.
The following measures will take effect immediately and will be in place for at least three weeks:
Workplaces with COVID-19 outbreaks will be mandated to close for 10 days, with exemptions for critical workplaces.
All post secondary instruction will move online.
Retail services must limit customer capacity to 10 per cent of fire code occupancy or a minimum of five customers – this includes both individual stores and common areas.
Outdoor social gatherings, currently limited to 10 people, will be limited to 5 – with a strong recommendation that people limit gatherings to two family cohorts.
Places of worship, currently limited to 15% capacity, will be limited to 15 people, as they were last spring.
Sadly funerals, currently limited to 20 people, will be limited to 10.
Effective at 11:59PM on Sunday, May 9:
Personal and wellness services, including hair salons, tattoo parlours, tanning salons, and nail salons, will close for the three week period.
In-person dining at bars and restaurants, including outdoor patios, will close. They may open for take-out only.
Outdoor sports and recreation will be limited to household and close contacts only.
And youth and adult performance will close.
Health, social, and professional services – such as massage therapy, physicians and dentists, accountants, and lawyers – will remain available by appointment only.
And indoor fitness remains closed.
We are also doubling the basic fine for violating public health orders from $1,000 to $2,000. The maximum fine for serious offences remains $100,000.
And we are introducing a tougher enforcement protocol for repeat offenders. We will not tolerate those who endanger the health of their fellow Albertans while the vast majority of people are doing the right thing.
Those who can work from home must do so. Masks are required at all indoor worksites unless workers are distanced from others.
A full list of measures is available right now at alberta.ca/stopthespike.
I know this is all discouraging to hear.
Nobody wants to be here – especially after 14 months and multiple waves of this pandemic.
But our commitment to the health and safety of Albertans must come first.
The good news is we have vaccines on our side. They are already working wonders and they are finally arriving in larger and larger numbers.
We will be able to begin vaccinating all Albertans over 16 years of age very soon.
The vaccines will catch up to the virus and defeat it. We have seen it elsewhere. It’s only a matter of time before it happens here.
But until then, we have to protect our hospitals.
If we don’t want widespread delays or cancellations of surgeries and other care, we have to stop the spike right now.
If we want to guarantee a staffed hospital bed for every Albertan that may need it for any reason – COVID or otherwise – we have to stop the spike right now.
So please, follow the health guidelines in your area, particularly if you live in one of the hotspots.
Get vaccinated when it’s your turn. If you’re eligible now, please don’t wait any longer.
Summer is just around the corner – and what that summer will look like is up to all of us.
So let’s come together and show that we are Alberta strong, so we can move past this terrible time into a bright Alberta summer.
Thank you – and good night.