Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is ending the province’s COVID-19 vaccine passport requirement effective Feb. 9 and lifting other COVID-19 rules in three weeks.
Kenney said at a news conference on Feb. 8 that high vaccination rates, declining hospital cases, and a continued drop in the spread of the Omicron variant make it possible to end the passport program.
“Our approach to COVID must change as the disease changes,” he said.
Kenney also noted the divisions that COVID-19 policies have caused.
“These restrictions have led to terrible division even amongst families and friends, and inflamed, sometimes, tensions in our communities and neighbourhoods. They’ve disrupted and even destroyed so many livelihoods. We will never know, we’ll never be able to do a full accounting of the extent of the pain and hardship that restrictions have caused,” he said.
“But we do know some things: we know we have seen in Alberta and across the developed world a significant increase in mental and emotional health challenges amongst children and adolescents … we have seen the failure of many businesses, and of course, at the beginning of the pandemic, record-high unemployment.”
As of Feb. 14, mandatory masking rules for all kindergarten to Grade 12 students will end. Children aged 12 and under will also be exempt from the general mask mandate outside of school settings; this measure will remain in place for the rest of the population in indoor settings until March 1.
“As I have long said, kids have been subjected to a heavy and I think unfair burden throughout the pandemic. And given the very low threat that COVID-19 poses to the health of children, it is no longer justifiable after two long years to continue to disrupt and restrict the normal lives of kids,” Kenney said.
“It is time to let kids be kids.”
As the first step of lifting restrictions, effective Feb. 9, Alberta will remove capacity limits for all businesses except large facilities and entertainment venues of over 500 people.
The province will enter step two on March 1 if hospitalizations continue in a downward trend, Kenney said. In this phase, all remaining school requirements, such as kindergarten to Grade 6 cohorting, will be removed.
Capacity limits on all large venues and entertainment venues will also be lifted on March 1, as well as indoor and outdoor social gathering limits. Masking in indoor settings will no longer be required.
Kenney said no specific timeline has been set for the province to enter phase three, which will be determined depending on whether hospitalization rates continue to trend downward. This phase will involve removing COVID-specific continuing care measures, and lifting mandatory isolation requirements.
Earlier on Feb. 8, Saskatchewan became the first province in Canada to announce plans to remove COVID-19-related measures in the coming weeks, followed by Quebec, which will lift most of its public health orders by March 14, with the exception of mask requirements and the vaccine passport system.
The Canadian Press contributed to this report.