Alberta is lifting almost all COVID-19 restrictions Thursday in the third and final stage of its reopening plan.
It comes two weeks after the province hit a threshold the government set for reopening — 70 per cent of the eligible population receiving first vaccine doses. That number is now up to almost 72 per cent, while more than 38 per cent have received the recommended two shots.
Large events like the Calgary Stampede have the green light to go ahead, and there are no more caps on indoor or outdoor gatherings in restaurants, stores and places of worship.
Edmonton’s mask rule lifts Thursday, in lockstep with the repeal of the provincial mandate, but Calgary’s will continue until July 5.
Masks will still be required while on public transit, in taxis and ride-hailing services like Uber, as well as in continuing care and acute care facilities.
While shoppers in the capital don’t have to wear masks, many store managers have said that their staff will keep them on for now.
Jonn Gluwchynski, owner of the Cutting Room hair salon in Edmonton, says until most people have two vaccine doses, he’s taking extra precautions.
“I can’t cut hair from six feet or ten feet away from a guest, you know, I’m in your face.”
At United Sport & Cycle, operations manager Kelly Hodgson says people in the store should stay two metres apart, even though the province no longer mandates it.
“We’ll still have social distancing signs on the floor, up on our doors.”
Hodgson is letting his staff and customers decide about masks but says he fully believes it’s not the end of masks, and while staff will be taking the signs down, “Let’s just say we won’t be throwing them away.”
Premier Jason Kenney’s office released a statement Thursday reminding Albertans that confirmed cases of COVID-19 are still required to isolate for 10 days, as well as close contacts of those cases.
Alberta reported two additional deaths and 76 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday.
What’s happening across Canada
As of 2:48 p.m. ET on Thursday, Canada had reported 1,415,396 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 7,082 considered active. A CBC News tally of deaths stood at 26,299. More than 37.3 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered so far across the country, according to CBC’s vaccine tracker.
Many provinces were not reporting new numbers Thursday due to the holiday.
British Columbia has entered the next phase of its reopening plan due to a growing COVID-19 vaccination rate and a dramatic drop in cases, while lifting its pandemic-related state of emergency that had been in place since March 2020.
Starting Thursday, residents can go to dinner indoors and outdoors without a limit on numbers, and attend fairs and festivals with a communicable disease plan, such as staying away if they’re sick. The province is also allowing outdoor gatherings of up to 5,000 people.
Masks will no longer be mandatory before further restrictions are removed in September. Although masks aren’t mandatory, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry encourages people to continue wearing them in all indoor places.
Ian Tostenson, president of the BC Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said those still in the industry are worried about a “significant” labour shortage, resulting in restaurants having to make decisions such as reducing hours or shortening menus.
B.C. saw about 30 per cent of restaurants close their doors in the last 16 months, he said. The industry employed about 190,000 people before the pandemic began but “straw polls” showed about 40,000 left, he said.
British Columbia reported 44 new cases of COVID-19 and no new deaths on Wednesday.
Newfoundland and Labrador on Thursday reopened to non-essential travellers from outside Atlantic Canada who fill in an entry form.
Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Janice Fitzgerald says the form is available online and must be filled out by anyone coming to the province within three days before their travel. Anyone who is partially vaccinated must upload a negative pre-arrival COVID-19 test.
Those who do not complete the form before arrival will have to self-isolate until they’re contacted by a public health official to verify vaccination and pre-arrival COVID-19 test results.
The province reported one new case of COVID-19 on Wednesday.
New Brunswick reported no new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday after three new cases were confirmed the previous day.
The province also broke its vaccination records, administering 18,827 doses on Wednesday. That pushed the second-dose vaccination rate to 36.1 per cent, and the first-dose vaccination rate to 78 per cent.
Nova Scotia reported four new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday.
P.E.I. did not report any new cases on Thursday.
In Manitoba, health officials reported 70 new cases on Wednesday and two additional deaths.
Saskatchewan reported 31 new cases on Wednesday.
In Quebec on Wednesday, health officials reported 126 new cases of COVID-19 and three additional deaths. Quebec public health refused a request by the Montreal Canadiens to allow more fans at the Bell Centre for the Stanley Cup final, but said groups of 5,000 people will be allowed to attended outdoor events, up from 3,500.
Across the North, there were no new cases reported in Nunavut or the Northwest Territories on Wednesday. Health officials in Yukon updated their Wednesday count overnight and said the territory had 15 new cases.
What’s happening around the world
As of mid-afternoon Thursday ET, more than 182.4 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported around the world, according to data published by Johns Hopkins University in the United States. The reported global death toll stood at more than 3.9 million.
As Europe‘s summer vacation season hit its stride Thursday with a new EU-wide travel pass in place, the bloc’s medical office issued reassuring messages on travelling, despite the threat of the surging delta variant.
Many airports saw busy scenes as masses of people sought to escape to the sunny southern European Union nations for a beach holiday, with the digital COVID-19 travel certificate a must-have.
The EU Digital Certificate came officially into effect Thursday even though many member states had started introducing it over the past month, seeking to boost their summer season by making movement as seamless as possible.
Dr. Marco Cavaleri, the European Medicines Agency’s head of vaccines strategy, said Thursday that the four approved vaccines in the EU are all “protective against all strains that are circulating in Europe, including the delta variant” that emerged in India and is more contagious than others.
In Russia, health authorities on Thursday launched booster coronavirus vaccinations for people immunized more than six months ago, as the country faces a surge in new infections and deaths.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said he had received a booster shot and urged city residents to follow suit.
Moscow health authorities on Thursday started offering booster shots with the domestically produced, two-shot Sputnik V vaccine and its one-shot Sputnik Light version. Other Russian regions are also starting to offer booster shots.
Vaccine promises for Africa fail
In Africa, the African Union special envoy tasked with leading efforts to procure COVID-19 vaccines for the continent is blasting Europe as Africa struggles amid a crushing third wave of infections.
Strive Masiyiwa on Thursday said that “not one dose, not one vial, has left a European factory for Africa.”
Masiyiwa also took aim at the global COVAX effort to distribute vaccines to low- and middle-income countries, accusing COVAX of withholding crucial information including that key donors had not met funding pledges. He didn’t name which donors.
The African continent of 1.3 billion people is now in the grip of a third wave of infections the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls “extremely aggressive.”
Masiyiwa said COVAX had promised to deliver 700 million vaccine doses to Africa by December. But at mid-year, Africa has received just 65 million doses overall. Less than 50 million doses via COVAX have arrived.
In the Asia-Pacific region, hundreds of vaccinated foreign tourists arrived on Thailand’s resort island of Phuket on Thursday, the first visitors under a pilot program designed to revive a tourism industry devastated by the pandemic.
Under the “Phuket sandbox” plan, foreign tourists fully vaccinated against COVID-19 will not have to spend any time in quarantine and can move around the island freely.
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