Faced with surging cases and the lowest vaccination rate in the country, Alberta will begin paying $100 to people who get a first or second dose of COVID-19 vaccine, Premier Jason Kenney announced Friday.
The move is part of a suite of new measures announced by the province, including making masks mandatory for all indoor public spaces and workplaces starting Saturday.
Alberta is the first province in Canada to offer a financial incentive for vaccinations, though the tactic has been used in the United States, Premier Kenney told a news conference in Edmonton.
“I wish we didn’t have to do this, but this is not a time for moral judgments,” he said about the incentive program, which is expected to cost about $20 million.
The number of eligible Albertans who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine is about five percentage points below the Canadian average, he said.
“If the choice is between a sustained crisis in our hospitals or, God forbid, widespread restrictions, which I want to avoid at all costs, or finding some way to get the attention of those vaccine latecomers, we’re going to choose the latter.”
Among the public health measures announced Friday are:
- Beginning Saturday, restaurants, cafés, bars, pubs and nightclubs will be required to end alcohol service at 10 p.m.
- Unvaccinated Albertans are strongly recommended to limit indoor social gatherings to close contacts of only two cohort families, up to a maximum of 10 people.
- Alberta Health is developing a QR code that will allow Albertans to quickly prove their vaccination status.
- Employers are urged to pause return-to-work plans and instead continue with work-from-home measures. If employees are working on location, employees must mask for all indoor settings, except in work stations or where two-metre physical distancing or adequate physical barriers are in place.
- School boards will continue to set their own masking rules for schools.
The news conference also offered sobering updates on the current strain on Alberta’s health system and modelling that gives a glimpse of how bad things could get.
Alberta Health Services is postponing scheduled surgeries and procedures by between 30 and 60 percent, depending on the zone. It is also opening up specific beds in Calgary and Edmonton for COVID-19 patients in a bid to free up space in hospitals.
“The situation is serious,” AHS said in a news release.
Meanwhile, modelling done in mid-August suggests a worst-case scenario in the next few weeks of 700 people in regular hospital beds and as many as 290 more requiring intensive care, the government said in a news release.
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