Canadian province Alberta bans indoor gatherings to curb COVID-19 spread

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) -The Canadian province of Alberta said on Tuesday it would ban indoor social gatherings, halt classes for some students and reduce retail store capacities to slow the spread of COVID-19.

FILE PHOTO: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney attends a meeting with Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada December 10, 2019. REUTERS/Blair Gable/File Photo/File Photo

Premier Jason Kenney also capped attendance at worship services and said in-person dining at restaurants would be limited to members of the same household eating together.

“These measures are tough but necessary,” Kenney said, adding that social gatherings have been the biggest spreaders of the virus. “They are needed to keep our health care system from being overwhelmed.”

Limits on retail stores and services take effect on Friday. Some businesses, like banquet halls, must close, while stores can stay open at 25% capacity. The restrictions will be reviewed in three weeks.

Canada kept the first wave of COVID-19 infections largely under control in most provinces compared to the United States, but the second wave has been more severe.

Alberta reported 1,115 new cases on Tuesday, including 16 additional deaths. Canada has recorded nearly 338,000 cases during the pandemic and 11,500 deaths.

Alberta, which has been slower than other hard-hit provinces to increase restrictions, currently has the most active cases in Canada.

With rising cases in schools, Alberta will eliminate in-class learning for grades 7-12 starting on Nov. 30, while younger students will continue attending schools until Dec. 18.

Alberta ordered workers and visitors at all indoor workplaces in the Calgary and Edmonton areas to wear masks.

The restrictions fall short of lockdown measures that some other provinces have taken, and Kenney said he was concerned stricter steps would inflict “massive damage” to the economy.

The province’s oil-dependent economy has suffered severely from pandemic travel restrictions that have crushed global fuel demand and its government expects to run a larger than usual fiscal deficit.

Neighboring Saskatchewan plans to announce new measures on Wednesday, a provincial government spokesman said.

Reporting by Rod Nickel in Winnipeg; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Lincoln Feast.