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All Alberta students move to online learning starting Friday, premier says

All kindergarten to Grade 12 students in Alberta will move to at-home learning starting on Friday after the long weekend, and all workplaces in the province with COVID-19 outbreaks will be closed, Premier Jason Kenney says.

Fines for violating public-health orders will double to $2,000, Kenney said Tuesday at a news conference.

“I know this is a real disruption for both kids and parents,” Kenney said. “But with the current level of community spread, 80,000 students and staff are in self-isolation, and we will soon reach a point where many schools will not be able to operate. This two-week reset will allow schools to come back for in-classroom instruction for the rest of the academic year.”

In his speech carried on live TV, Kenney said the government had no choice but to bring in tougher measures to keep the health-care system from being overwhelmed.

Further details on the new restrictions will be provided at a Wednesday morning news conference, which is expected to involve Kenney, Health Minister Tyler Shandro, Education Minister Adriana LaGrange and Justice Minister Kaycee Madu, according to the premier’s office.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, may also attend. 

Kenney has vowed to clamp down on surging cases and pandemic rule-breakers. He told a news conference Monday that a “package of stronger public health measures” would be announced on Tuesday. 

Kenney said he had hoped to avoid additional rules but a lack of compliance and surging infection rates have forced his hand.

Alberta reported 1,743 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday for a total of 23,623 active cases, the highest total since the pandemic began 14 months ago. Alberta has the highest case rate in Canada.

Testing detected 876 more cases of variants of concern for a total of 14,728 active variant cases — more than 62 per cent of all active cases in the province.

Hospitals were treating 671 patients with the illness as of Tuesday, including 150 in intensive-care beds.

Alberta reported nine more deaths, bringing the province’s pandemic death toll to 2,099. 

‘Albertans are ignoring the rules’

“The reason we are at this critical stage of the pandemic in Alberta — with record-high daily case counts and intensive care numbers — is precisely because, for whatever reason, too many Albertans are ignoring the rules that we have in place,” Kenney said. 

“That’s why we may be left with no tools left in the toolbox apart from broader, tougher restrictions.”

WATCH | Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks about mass gatherings:

Kenney said the “No More Lockdowns” rodeo — an event that saw hundreds of maskless attendees gather in Bowden, Alta., — was a disturbing example of ongoing public defiance. 

RCMP told CBC News that Alberta Health Services (AHS) is leading an investigation into the rodeo and that health inspectors, not police, will decide if charges are warranted. 

Not following mandatory restrictions can result in fines of $1,000 per offence and up to $100,000 through the courts. Police, health inspectors and some peace officers can issue tickets. 

Some COVID tickets ‘quashed’ by the courts 

New data provided by the province shows, on average, over the first 13 months of pandemic enforcement, fewer than two charges per day were issued under the public health act. 

Between March 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, 576 tickets were filed in provincial court for infractions under the Public Health Act.  

  • About 38 per cent remain before the court. 
  • About 12 per cent resulted in a conviction or were paid out. 
  • About 10 per cent of the tickets were “quashed or otherwise resolved” by the court.

“As with other matters and in line with the independence of police, it’s up to officers to decide to lay a charge or issue a ticket,” reads a statement from the Ministry of Justice and Solicitor General. 

Prosecutors assess the cases on an ongoing basis, the statement said, and will not proceed with a case unless there is a reasonable likelihood of conviction.

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Bourbiza Mohamed. Writer and Political Discourse Analysis.

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