Starting Monday, Alberta will loosen some COVID-19 restrictions.
Alberta Minister of Health Tyler Shandro said Thursday outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed as of Jan. 18.
Also on Monday hair salons, barbershops, tattoo parlours and other personal and wellness services can open by appointment only.
Funeral ceremony attendance will be increased to 20 people, with mandatory masking and two-metre physical distancing. Funeral receptions are still not allowed.
Indoor gatherings are still prohibited.
Shandro said he wasn’t sure when they were going to be able to ease other restrictions.
“Albertans have done a good job of staying the course and abiding by public health measures, but we are still seeing high hospitalizations and case numbers, and this continues to put a serious strain on our health-care system,” he said.
“How much further we can ease restrictions depends on our collective efforts over the coming days and weeks to limit the spread of the virus.”
Alberta’s chief medical officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the move to open those select businesses and allow small outdoor gatherings wasn’t political.
She said the decision was made based on the evidence and trends of transmission across the province. Alberta’s COVID-19 R-value, or reproduction rate (the average number of people that someone with COVID-19 will infect), was 0.9 per cent from Jan. 4-10. Hinshaw said getting that number below one was one of the key metrics they would use to ease restrictions.
“This first move is a test case. This is our opportunity to give Albertans a little bit more freedom and the ability to do a few more activities in a safe way,” she said.
The province reported an additional 967 cases of COVID-19 over 16,000 tests for a positivity rate of 5.8 per cent Thursday. Hinshaw said 806 people are in hospital, with 136 in the ICU.
The province now has 12,434 active cases of the virus.
“The situation remains serious. Our numbers remain high and our health system is still under significant strain,” Hinshaw said.
The province also announced an additional 21 deaths due to the virus over the past 24 hours. A man in his 50s died in Camrose on Jan. 12. Overall, 1,389 people have died from COVID-19 in Alberta since the beginning of the pandemic.
Central zone has 1,152 active cases of the virus, with 75 people in hospital, including 15 in intensive care.
Red Deer now is down almost 20 cases over the past 24 hours, to 196 active. Red Deer County has 40 active cases and Lacombe County sits at 29 active. Lacombe has 31 active, Olds has 25 active and Sylvan Lake sits at 32 active.
Mountain View County sits at 22 active, Kneehill County has nine active and Clearwater County has 71 active.
Camrose County has nine active and Camrose has 51 active.
Ponoka County, the County of Wetaskiwin and Wetaskiwin have 496 combined cases of COVID-19.
Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer also announced Thursday the expansion of the province’s relaunch grant to include businesses that started up in the pandemic. Businesses are now eligible for up to $15,000.