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Forecasts show Alberta could begin reopening economy in May: Kenney

EDMONTON — Premier Jason Kenney says Alberta is doing better than expected on containing COVID-19 and the plan is to begin relaxing health lockdown rules next month.
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EDMONTON — Premier Jason Kenney says Alberta is doing better than expected on containing COVID-19 and the plan is to begin relaxing health lockdown rules next month.

Kenney said details of Alberta's relaunch plan will be revealed later this week, but they will mirror those already announced in Saskatchewan.

"There will be some dates (announced)," Kenney said Tuesday.

"I do hope we will begin reopening aspects of social and economic life that have currently been suspended in the month of May."

Kenney said earlier forecasts suggested a steep peak of COVID-19 cases in Alberta in late May, so a reopening was not likely until June.

But he said new revised forecasts showing reduced future cases and hospitalizations suggest a more optimistic timeline.

He noted the situation remains fluid.

"We're going to have to monitor (recent outbreaks) very closely."

Last week, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe announced a five-step reopening plan starting with medical services such as dentists, optometrists and physical therapy on May 4.

Golf courses could be allowed to reopen on May 15, followed on May 19 by retail shops that sell clothing, flowers, books, sporting goods and toys.

Other restrictions on businesses and large gatherings would follow, with strict monitoring on outbreaks and cases at each stage.

"Our Alberta relaunch strategy will likely be fairly similar to that of Saskatchewan," said Kenney. "(It won't be) identical in every respect, but I suspect there won't be significant gaps between the Alberta and Saskatchewan approach."

Kenney said he plans to speak further with Moe and British Columbia Premier John Horgan to co-ordinate opening up shared interests "because our economies are so closely integrated."

Alberta reported 154 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing its total to 4,850. Five more people died, bringing the death toll to 80, including 52 at long-term care homes.

There are 82 people in hospital and 21 of them are in intensive care.

Along with outbreaks at care homes, the province is also responding to outbreaks at two southern Alberta meat processing plants and the Kearl Lake oilsands camp north of Fort McMurray.

Alberta has strict public health restrictions in place, keeping only essential businesses open and limiting large gatherings to no more than 15 people.

The province reported its first case of COVID-19 almost eight weeks ago, on March 5, and its first death on March 19.

Three weeks ago, preliminary modelling on the course of the virus forecast 818 Albertans would be hospitalized at the peak of the virus in late May.

Kenney said under the revised scenario that number is now at 596.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said credit goes to Albertans for following rules to stay home when possible and avoiding large gatherings. 

"Alberta is starting to see the results of the collective sacrifices we have made, but I want to stress this fight is far from over," said Hinshaw.

"Modelling is just a projection of a potential future. It's not a guarantee, and cases could easily spike in Alberta if we are not careful." 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 28, 2020

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press




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