Growing spread of Omicron variant, frigid temperatures cast shadow over Edmonton New Year’s Eve celebrations

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Edmonton and area residents are bracing for a frigid New Year’s Eve made colder by the COVID-19 Omicron variant putting a damper on many events to ring in 2022.

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The City of Edmonton’s fireworks display set to return to Churchill Square was nixed as a result of climbing case numbers in the region. But fireworks shows in the surrounding municipalities of St. Albert, Strathcona County and Stony Plain are still scheduled to move forward as well as some community shows throughout the city.

Even though the large New Year’s Eve event was cancelled, the city is hosting recreational activities throughout the weekend at Victoria Park, Rundle Park and Hawrelak Park in the river valley and encouraging Edmontonians to spend time outside. Residents can skate on the rinks at each park as well as take part in sledding, snowshoeing and snow fort building, the city said in a social media post Thursday.

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But with a deep freeze still gripping the city, temperatures are expected to plummet to -30 C Friday night as Edmontonians ring in the new year. A bit of a reprieve is on the way for New Year’s Day with the high expected to break through to the single digits at -7 C.

An extreme cold warning issued by Environment Canada remains in place, with wind chill values near -40 C in the forecast and the city’s extreme weather protocol remains in effect to support vulnerable Edmontonians. The protocol will be extended past Dec. 31, when it was initially projected to end, and three days of notice will be given before it is deactivated.

The city’s response includes two overnight bus routes running to shelters across the city and an expanded 200-person capacity at the temporary 24-7 Commonwealth Stadium shelter, with the capacity to open an additional 80 spaces if there is demand.

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Restaurants ending in-person dining

Some Edmonton restaurants have decided to close in-person dining as COVID-19 cases spike in an effort to keep staff and patrons safe. Both Fleisch Delikatessen and Northern Chicken have paused in-person dining just days before New Year’s Eve.

Northern Chicken owner Matt Phillips said this decision will hurt financially as New Year’s Eve — and even more New Year’s Day — provide great business but felt it was necessary to protect his team.

“We definitely take a financial hit by not being able to be open for service, but the safety of those immunocompromised people on our staff is of the utmost importance to us,” he said in an interview with Postmedia Thursday. “This is going to hit us pretty bad, but it is what it is. The staff are what make up a restaurant or any business. They’re the ones who keep businesses operating and they need to be the ones who are kept safe and comfortable.”

Both restaurants remain open for takeout and will take case counts and booster doses into consideration before deciding when to reopen in the new year.

On Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney encouraged Albertans to limit gathering sizes when ringing in 2022. The province recorded a new daily high for COVID-19 cases Thursday with an estimated 4,000 cases and a positivity rate of 30 per cent.

The province is expected to provide a media availability on COVID-19 Friday.

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