Effective as of 12:01 am on September 20th, public health restrictions have come back into effect in Alberta.
I want to recognize that this is not the outcome any of us hoped for, and that for many of you who own small businesses, the mere thought of more restrictions may feel absolutely devastating. I understand why many of you feel frustrated and exhausted, and I want you to know that every email you have sent me these past few months - whether about a family member struck with COVID 19 or a family business pushed to the brink of bankruptcy - has been read with heartfelt compassion for your situation.
Despite Wednesday's announcement, absolutely no business will be required to close their doors. Absolutely no business will be required to demand proof of vaccination prior to entry. And absolutely no Albertan will be required to choose between receiving a vaccine or being denied essential services. For these things, I am grateful to be Albertan. Restaurants, retail stores, fitness facilities, and entertainment venues will be given two options. They may opt to require either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID 19 test result prior to entry to their premises, and if so, will have no restrictions or capacity limits imposed on their operations. Alternatively, they may opt to not require proof of vaccination or negative test results prior to entry. If they choose this latter option, they will still be permitted to remain open and serve their patrons – but with operational restrictions and capacity reductions. I strive to be a politician of integrity and honesty. That is why I have spoken out several times over the past year to express my true feelings on pandemic-related matters, and why I have always been frank and candid with those of you whom I’ve had the pleasure of conversing with. As human beings, you deserve that. When I spent my entire summer joyfully speaking at community events and promising you through phone and email communications that our province was not only open for summer, but that we were open for good and never going backwards, I meant those words. Every time I spoke them, I believed them. I never had intentions of misleading you. I chose to believe in hope; in optimism; in better days ahead.
Yet we are now 19 months into this pandemic, and while Alberta is fortunate to have a 99.5% COVID-19 survival rate, our healthcare system is overloaded and hundreds of people are still suffering. At maximum capacity, our hospitals have 173 ICU beds. We currently have 218 individuals in our ICUs with COVID 19, over 90% of which are unvaccinated. Our government has done all we can to make vaccines available to those wishing to receive them, including efforts to open mass AHS vaccination clinics in our major urban centers, deploy roving vaccination buses to smaller communities, making vaccinations available at rural pharmacies, giving vaccination priority to towns such as Banff where there existed high risk of viral transmission, and even going so far as to offer vaccine lotteries and monetary incentives. Still, we always remained firm that vaccines would be encouraged but never mandated in our province, contrary to what other provinces and countries have done.
The painful decision to reintroduce public health restrictions in Alberta did not come easily. It came after seven hours of caucus debate, followed by eleven more hours of cabinet debate. That is 18 total hours of deliberations to reach the difficult decision that was made today. For some of you, the announcement will not go nearly far enough to make you feel safe within our province. For others, this announcement will go too far and vastly inhibit your ability to live your life and run your business. There was no solution that would have pleased everyone.
While the solution isn’t perfect, when compared to other jurisdictions such as BC that have made vaccinations mandatory for all non-essential activities without even allowing for medical exemptions, I remain grateful that our government allowed for significant debate prior to this decision, and that we settled on middle ground with a plan that offers choice to Albertans and gives businesses the ability to continue fully operating. Our 61 MLA caucus represents views from urban and rural, young and old. Some represent people who would prefer a complete circuit breaker lockdown coupled with mandatory vaccines until COVID 19 is eradicated, and others represent those for whom there is no limit to how far removed they want the government from their lives. Opposing views and intellectual debate are what make democracy beautiful, and today’s outcome – allowing all businesses to stay open while finding creative ways to keep people safe without heavy handed mandates - is the result of that. As you talk to strangers in coffee shops and have dinner table conversations with your family tonight, try to be patient and compassionate with those who carry a different viewpoint than you. COVID 19 has been one of the most divisive issues of our lifetime, but with understanding and respect for mutual compromise, we can and will come out of this as a society.
For the full list of restrictions and rules announced today, visit: www.Alberta.ca.