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Alberta

Alberta justice minister hikes fines, promises renewed effort on COVID-19 scofflaws

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EDMONTON — Alberta has doubled fines for disobeying public health measures meant to fight COVID-19 and Justice Minister Kaycee Madu is promising a renewed effort to stop public health scofflaws will succeed.

“Enforcement will be done, and Albertans will see it being done,” Madu told a news conference Wednesday.

“It has become clear that there are a small few who refuse to comply with reasonable and legitimate public health orders”

The United Conservative government passed an order in council Wednesday that doubles fines for public health violations to $2,000.

Madu said there is also a new protocol for health officials, police and government to co-ordinate and target repeat individuals and groups that flout the law.

He said he discussed with police chiefs this week what further tools and resources they need to step up enforcement.

Premier Jason Kenney on Tuesday announced stronger measures to reverse soaring COVID-19 cases that threaten to overwhelm hospitals by month’s end and to force doctors to decide which patients get life-saving care.

Kenney’s government has been criticized for being a paper tiger on lawbreakers. In January, it allowed some restaurants to flout dine-in restrictions. GraceLife church, in Spruce Grove, Alta., west of Edmonton, was able to hold Sunday services for months that officials have said ignored rules on masks, capacity limits and physical distancing. Police physically blocked off the church just a month ago.

The enforcement issue made headlines again on this weekend when hundreds of people gathered near Bowden in central Alberta for a pre-advertised maskless “No More Lockdowns” protest rodeo.

Edmonton and Calgary have also seen maskless mass protests against health restrictions.

Action was taken Wednesday against one accused repeat offender. Alberta Health Services announced the Whistle Stop Café in Mirror, Alta., had been physically closed and access barred. The café had been flagged for repeatedly breaking COVID-19 health restrictions by staying open and serving customers.

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Kenney’s government set its enforcement policy up for failure from the get-go by stressing education first and enforcement as a last resort.

Referring to the protocol Madu outlined, Notley said: “The fact there is a protocol to tell them to talk to each other is not new. It is a policy dressed up to look like action, but it is not significant, and that’s why we’re calling on them to do more.”

She criticized the plan to target only repeat offenders: “(That) says to me their plan is to give everybody their first rodeo free, which is in effect what they did with the Bowden rodeo.

“This has to stop because that Bowden rodeo will turn out to be a super-spreader. People will get sick from that rodeo. People will get seriously ill.”

Kenney announced tighter rules Tuesday, some of which came in effect Wednesday. Outdoor gatherings, which had been limited to 10 people, are now capped at five. Worship services, which were allowed at 15 per cent capacity, have been reduced to 15 people maximum.

Retailers, which had been open at 15 per cent customer capacity, are restricted to 10 per cent.

On Friday, all kindergarten to Grade 12 students will learn from home. On Sunday, restaurants must close their patios and offer takeout service only. Personal wellness services, including hair salons and barber shops, will have to close.

Indoor social gatherings remain banned. Entertainment venues, including movie theatres and casinos, also remain closed.

As of Wednesday, Alberta had 24,156 active cases of COVID-19, with 666 people in hospital. It has experienced the highest infection rates in North America in recent weeks.

There are almost 1.7 million Albertans who have received at least one dose of vaccine. About one in three adults have had a shot.

Kenney said the vaccination rollout will be expanded drastically, with everyone in the province 12 and older to soon be eligible.

Every Albertan born in 1991 or earlier will be able to book vaccinations starting Friday. On Monday, appointments will be offered to anyone born between 2009 and 1992.

Earlier Wednesday, Health Canada approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for children as young as 12.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 5, 2021.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

Province wants everyone in Alberta to get a third shot

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Expanding COVID-19 booster to all Albertans 18-plus

Expanded availability of third doses of COVID-19 vaccine will help Albertans increase their protection against COVID-19.

Starting Dec. 2, all Albertans aged 60 and older can book appointments for a booster dose of mRNA vaccine six months after receiving their second dose. First appointments will be available beginning Dec. 6.

All other Albertans aged 18-plus will be notified when the next age group is able to book appointments. Additional age groups will be announced as quickly as possible.

“I am pleased that we can offer booster doses to more Albertans. Millions of Albertans have rolled up their sleeves to have their best protection against COVID-19. While two doses continues to provide strong protection against severe outcomes, we will continue to push the federal government for supply to ensure all Albertans can receive their third doses to continue limiting COVID-19 infection and transmission.”

Jason Copping, Minister of Health

“With the winter season increasing transmission risks, and more Albertans approaching the six-month milestone since receiving their second dose, the evidence supports expanding booster doses to add an additional layer of protection. Vaccines continue to be our best protection against COVID-19, and I continue to encourage Albertans to book their first, second and third doses as soon as they are eligible.”

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health

Current evidence indicates that vaccine effectiveness against COVID-19 infection appears to wane over time. While individual protection against severe outcomes remains strong after two doses for most people, there are still many in our communities who are completely unprotected, and third doses will help boost population protection and limit the spread of COVID-19.

Expansion of booster dose eligibility was informed by the advice of the Alberta Advisory Committee on Immunization.

Booking for booster doses

Effective Dec. 2, eligible individuals can book appointments for third doses online with participating pharmacies by using the Alberta vaccine booking system. Albertans can also call 811, participating pharmacies or participating physicians’ offices. The first appointments will be available starting Dec. 6.

Booster eligibility is based on birth date. Albertans who are 59 turning 60, and First Nation, Métis or Inuit individuals who are 17 turning 18, are asked to not book appointments before their birthday.

Albertans who were previously eligible for third doses continue to be able to book their appointments.

Albertans eligible for additional doses

Albertans eligible for additional doses now include:

Eligible at least six months after receiving their second dose:

  • Albertans aged 60-plus
  • First Nations, Métis and Inuit people aged 18-plus
  • Health-care workers providing direct patient care and who received their second dose less than eight weeks after their first dose
  • Individuals who received two doses of AstraZeneca or one dose of Janssen vaccine

Eligible at least five months after receiving their second dose:

  • Seniors living in congregate care

Eligible at least eight weeks after receiving their second dose:

  • Individuals with eligible immunocompromising conditions

Quick facts

  • To date, 378,507 Albertans have received a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine.
  • 84.1 per cent of eligible Albertans 12 years of age and older have received two doses of COVID-19 vaccine while 88.8 per cent have received at least one dose.
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Alberta

Evacuation order lifted after wildfire contained in southern Alberta

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Firefighters contained a wildfire on Wednesday that had prompted a temporary evacuation order in a sparsely populated area of southern Alberta.

An emergency alert from the Alberta Emergency Management Agency was issued just after midnight notifying residents of a blaze near the intersection of Highway 22 and Highway 533, west of Nanton, Alta.

The Municipal District of Willow Creek No. 26 said in a statement it was unknown how many people had left.

Just after 6 a.m., evacuees were given the green light to return home with caution. The provincial agency said residents were no longer at immediate risk.

Josee St-Onge, a spokesperson with Alberta Wildfire, said the grass fire was classified as being held.

“It means that given the current weather conditions, and the resources that we have working on that wildfire, it’s not anticipated to grow past the boundaries that have been established for it,” said St-Onge.

Strong winds could prevent further progress in getting the fire under control and extinguished, she said.

“It’s too soon to see exactly how the fire is going to behave and if we’re going to be able to bring it under control quickly, but that’s definitely the goal.”

Aerial and land fire crews continued to fight the fire and additional resources were on standby, St-Onge added. The fire was mapped out at 37 hectares.

No property damage was reported.

St-Onge said fires are not unusual this time of year. Warmer weather, high winds and grassy areas not yet covered by snow increase the risk.

Wind warnings swept southern Alberta on Wednesday.

Environment Canada issued alerts for all southern parts of the province, including Waterton Lakes National Park, Cypress Hills Provincial Park, Lethbridge, Cardston and surrounding areas.

The agency said wind gusts could hit 100 km/h and potentially cause damage to property, down trees, toss loose objects and make driving difficult. Environment Canada said it expected winds to gradually decrease but remain “gusty” into Thursday.

Gary Stanford, who lives in Magrath, south of Lethbridge, said power went out at his home Tuesday night. He expects it was a result of power lines blown over by strong winds.

“A lot of trees broke and it was snapping off big power poles about halfway down to the ground,” said Stanford. “During the night was when the big gusts came.”

He said winds calmed down by about 8 a.m. Wednesday. He said it’s often windy where he lives, but this was out of the ordinary.

In other parts of the province, winter weather conditions were posing a risk.

Lake Louise RCMP advised that “winter has struck the mountain areas” and was creating avalanche risks near the resort village.

Parts of Highway 93, north and south of Highway 1, were closed to traffic and weren’t expected to reopen until Thursday, Mounties said.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 1, 2021.

Alanna Smith, The Canadian Press

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