Alberta opens COVID-19 vaccine boosters to all adults, reduces attendance at large venues

Alberta is introducing new restrictions at large venues and making vaccine booster shots available to all adults as the Omicron variant continues to spread rapidly.

Venues with a capacity of more than 1,000 customers will be limited to 50 per cent, and businesses with a capacity between 500 and 1,000 will be capped at 500, the Alberta government announced.

Customers won’t be allowed to eat or drink while seated, or during intermission, and have to wear masks at all times.

This will affect NHL games and the World Juniors tournament in Edmonton and Red Deer, Health Minister Jason Copping said.

“With the increased transmission risk of Omicron, it’s important that the overall numbers of people mixing in venues be limited and that attendees remain masked at all times,” he said.

“We need to avoid superspreader events.”

Starting on Christmas Eve, restaurants and bars participating in the Restrictions Exemption Program have to limit tables to 10 customers, prohibit entertainment like dancing, stop serving alcohol by 11 p.m. and close by 12:30 a.m.

The province is also asking Albertans to reduce their social contacts by at least half over the holidays.

“I know this is challenging news to hear just before Christmas and as we head into the new year, but is necessary given what we know and what we’re still learning about the Omicron variant,” Premier Jason Kenney said.

Indoor gatherings remain limited to 10 people, not including minors, and outdoor gatherings are limited to 20 people.

VACCINE BOOSTERS

Starting immediately, the province said all adult Albertans who had received their second COVID-19 vaccine more than five months ago could book a third shot online or by calling Alberta Health Services at 811.

“The most powerful protection from this highly contagious variant is to get a booster shot,” Kenney said in a written statement. “I urge all Albertans to step up and protect themselves and the health-care system with a booster as soon as they can.”

Albertans have been encouraged to take the first mRNA vaccine available to them, as both the Pfizer and Moderna products have shown high levels of protection against COVID-19 and severe outcomes of the disease.

While studies have suggested the Moderna shot carries a slightly higher risk of causing myocarditis in younger people, particularly men, officials have reminded the public the risk is lower than experiencing the condition as a result of COVID-19.

Pfizer will be offered to Albertans aged 18-29 as a cautionary measure, Alberta Health said.

Among all Albertans, 78.7 per cent have now had at least one dose of vaccine, and 72.6 per cent of the entire population has had a second dose.

More than 142,000 doses of vaccine have now been administered to children between the ages of five and 11.

‘TAKE OMICRON VERY SERIOUSLY’

Also on Tuesday, Alberta reported 786 new cases, the highest since Oct. 14.

The province’s Omicron case count also grew by 564, up to 1,609, an increase from a case count of just 50 a week ago.

Hinshaw, who said she cancelled her own Christmas plans, repeated to reporters several times that Albertans need to take Omicron “very seriously” and reduce their contacts.

“Omicron is highly transmissible with data here and around the world showing that case counts of these variants are doubling every two to three days,” Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said. “Omicron is now our dominant strain and there is increasing community transmission in the province. This means if someone tests positive for COVID-19, they should assume they have the Omicron variant.

“In the next few weeks, we will see transmission rise to heights we have not seen before. We don’t know what that will do to the health-care system.”

Hinshaw announced Alberta Health is redirecting contact tracing to high-risk settings, like continuing care facilities, and asked everyone else who tests positive for COVID-19 to notify their close contacts.

There are now 329 COVID-19 patients in hospitals, including 69 in intensive care units.

Alberta’s next data update is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. 

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