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Alberta premier hopes cities stay in lockstep when provincial COVID mask rules lift


EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says he hopes the cities of Edmonton and Calgary will stay in lockstep with the province when it comes to eventually lifting mask restrictions tied to COVID-19.

"I would just hope that everyone in the province follows the advice of the chief medical officer, whose team proposed our open for summer plan, which is a safe plan," Kenney said Wednesday.

"We've seen places all across the world open up completely at much lower levels of (vaccine) population protection and see their (COVID case) numbers continue to fall."

Earlier this week, Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson suggested the city may go its own way on mask rules when the third and final stage of Alberta's reopening plan begins.

That stage, tentatively set for late June or early July, will occur when 70 per cent of eligible Albertans — those age 12 and older — have had at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.

At that time almost all restrictions will be lifted, including laws mandating masks be worn in indoor public spaces and in workplaces.

Iveson, responding to concerns from the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association, said the city is considering keeping the mask rules in place until at least 70 per cent are fully vaccinated with two doses.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi has said Calgary city council will discuss masking and weigh options, with community health and safety being the priority.

Asked if he would step in if necessary to keep the mask rules aligned provincewide, Kenney said, "We've been trying to work co-operatively with municipal leadership over the past 16 tough months.

"I hope that will continue to be the case, and I have got to believe that our municipal leaders will respect the (provincial) plan put forward."

In a letter sent June 3, the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association urged the two mayors to continue mandating masks in indoor public spaces until the level of two-dose vaccination is higher and Alberta has more control over a more contagious COVID-19 variant first identified in India.

About 67 per cent of eligible Albertans have received at least one vaccine dose and about 15 per cent are fully vaccinated.

On Thursday, Alberta is set to take a major step toward reopening when Stage 2 of its plan begins, with many businesses shuttered for months finally able to reopen.

Gyms and other indoor fitness facilities can open for solo and drop-in activities as well as fitness classes.

Movie theatres are back in business, as are museums, art galleries and libraries. Restaurants can sit up to six people to a table indoors or out.

Public outdoor gatherings for events like concerts and festivals can have up to 150 people maximum. Day camps and youth camps are allowed, as are indoor or outdoor youth and adult sports activities.

Outdoor gatherings among family and friends are capped at 20 people. Similar indoor get-togethers remain banned.

Post-secondary schools can reopen to in-person learning.

Customer capacity at retail stores and attendance at worship services rises to one-third of the fire code maximum.

"We continue to be able to reopen thanks to Albertans who protect each other every day," Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, said in a news release Wednesday.

"We can keep up this progress if Albertans continue to book their first and second-dose appointments and follow public measures, such as masking, maintaining a safe distance and staying home when feeling even slightly unwell."

Alberta reported 313 new cases of COVID-19 and 4,204 active cases Thursday. 

There are 329 people in hospital with the illness, including 83 in intensive care. 

About 3.2 million Albertans have received at least one vaccine dose.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 9, 2021.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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