Alberta Premier Jason Kenney made headlines last week when he announced an accelerated end to the provincial public safety protocols that have been in place for months to limit the transmission of Covid-19. While some limitations were lifted or relaxed in the summer of 2021, most came back into full effect when the highly contagious Omicron variant began to take hold across Canada in the fall.

However, as of last week, Alberta is taking imminent steps to remove or scale back the vast majority of provincial mandates as of March 1st. Below, we review the specific changes, timelines, and how they may impact businesses in the province.

Alberta’s Three-Stage Plan to Eliminate Covid Health Restrictions and Mandates

On February 8th, Premier Kenney held a press conference announcing the impending changes, with some to take effect within hours of the announcement.

Phase One – Effective as of 11:59 PM on February 8, 2022

  • The Provincial Restrictions Exemption Program (REP), which mandated businesses to implement and follow vaccine passport guidelines, was lifted completely.
  • Restrictions on the sale of food and beverages in entertainment venues were removed, so long as those consuming the items were seated in a spectator setting.
  • Capacity limits for all businesses, venues and facilities with a capacity of under 500 people were removed.
    • For venues with a capacity of 500-1,000, capacity is capped at 500.
    • For venues with a capacity of over 1,000, capacity is capped at 50 percent.
  • As of 11:59 PM on February 13, masks are no longer required for any child or youth in a school or any setting for children aged 12 and younger.

Phase Two – Effective as of March 1, 2022, pending hospitalization rates

  • All remaining Covid protocols in provincial school settings will be removed
  • Requirements to screen before youth activities will be removed
  • All capacity limits for venues will be lifted, regardless of the size of the venue
  • All limits on social gatherings will be removed
  • The provincial mask mandate will be lifted
  • The mandatory work from home mandate will be lifted

Phase Three – Date TBD based on hospitalization rates

  • All Covid-related protocols in continuing care settings will be lifted
  • Isolation for any person who is exposed to Covid or tests positive for Covid will become a recommendation rather than a mandatory measure.

Mandate Changes Met with Mixed Reactions Among Alberta’s Businesses

The reactions to the Premier’s announcement have been mixed among Alberta’s business communities. Some areas are pleased that restrictions such as capacity limits will soon be eliminated, as these have been the hardest on local and smaller businesses. Others fear that the restrictions are being removed too soon, which could undermine consumer confidence.

CEO of Calgary’s Chamber of Commerce, Deborah Yedlin, said that the Premier’s announcement “ignores the importance of consumer confidence in economic recovery…The changes made today are sudden – and have been announced against a backdrop of tools such as rapid testing and contact tracing no longer being available to help businesses keep staff and patrons safe and comfortable.”

Some are concerned that the removal of the vaccine passport program may cause a significant number of consumers to refrain from patronizing certain establishments, such as dine-in restaurants.

On the other hand, some business leaders have praised the changes, such as Serina Parsons, Executive Director of the Bonnyville and District Chamber of Commerce, who said that “[t]he time has come for life to get back on track…In my region, it’s a sigh of relief.”

Some Municipalities May Take Longer to Follow Suit

While the provincial measures are set to change drastically by March 1st, this does not mean that all measures will be lifted across the province. Some major Alberta municipalities have indicated some measures, such as the mask or face covering mandate, will remain in effect beyond March 1st.

Municipal officials from both Calgary and Edmonton have indicated the cities will observe the provincial three-step plan, but will not lift the mask and face-covering mandates. Each city has a bylaw in place mandating face coverings in public settings, which will remain in force beyond March 1st.

Temporary Mandatory Face Covering Bylaw

Edmonton’s Temporary Mandatory Face Coverings Bylaw states that masks or face coverings are mandated in all indoor public spaces and public vehicles. The restrictions apply to businesses, workplaces, retail stores, municipal facilities, enclosed transit centres, vehicles, and LRT platforms. There are exceptions for children under 2 years of age or those with a legitimate medical exemption. The city has indicated that the Bylaw will remain in effect until active Covid cases within the city remain under 100 per 100,000 people for at least 28 consecutive days.

Pandemic Face Covering Bylaw

Calgary’s Pandemic Face Covering Bylaw is similar to Edmonton’s. Face coverings must be worn in all indoor public spaces, public vehicles for hire, municipal facilities, and public transportation. There are exemptions for the following:

  • Children aged 12 and younger
  • People with underlying medical conditions or disabilities which inhibit their ability to wear a face covering, or people who cannot remove or put on a face-covering without assistance
  • People seated at a table at an establishment that serves food or beverages
  • People engaging in physical fitness activities
  • People who must remove a face covering to receive a service, such as at the dentist

Businesses are also required to display signage indicating the requirement to wear face coverings under the Bylaw. The city has indicated that the Bylaw will remain in effect until City Council votes to repeal it.

Advice for Alberta Businesses

The impact of the mandate changes has yet to be seen, on both Alberta businesses and the rate of infection in the province. For now, business owners should ensure they understand the upcoming changes, so they can prepare both staff and patrons. Further, businesses should closely follow any updates, as the plans could be amended if hospitalization rates rise in the coming weeks and months.

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