Published:October 7, 2021

-Global News


Businesses adopting the Alberta government’s COVID-19 restrictions exemption program (REP) will soon be able to apply for financial supports around implementation and training.

Small- and medium-sized businesses who choose to implement the program – known in other jurisdictions as a vaccine passport — will soon be able to apply for a one-time payment of $2,000.

“This funding is designed to help offset the cost of implementing the restrictions exemption program, but eligible businesses will be able to use this funding… in the way they see fit,” Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday.

In addition, the province will be introducing the REP Training Grant, a $1-million grant that will allow businesses to procure or develop  training for workers to assess and manage situations that may arise during their daily work. Kenney said the province will build on the existing ProServe program, a training system already used by licensed businesses in the province.
The province is also introducing legislation designed to protect businesses that require vaccination for employees or that implement the REP from legal challenges. The legislation will also aim to protect workers from harassment or mistreatment by increasing the fine from $2,000 to $4,000.

“For many small businesses out there, there’s uncertainly for them,” Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer said.

“That’s why we’re moving on this legislation, to provide absolute certainty so they can put in place a vaccine mandate for their workers, as well as implement the REP program without worrying about frivolous lawsuits coming their way.”

Schweitzer said more information on the funding will be available in the coming weeks and the government hopes to have the program up and running in the next four to six weeks.

The REP allows business to operate without capacity or curfew restrictions currently in place in the province. Eligible Albertans who are fully vaccinated can access these businesses, while unvaccinated eligible Albertans cannot.

Since the program was announced on Sept. 15, Kenney said about 337,000 Albertans have received either first or second dose of COVID-19 vaccine. Alberta will see 85 per cent of the eligible population with at least one dose either Thursday night or Friday, Kenney said. Four weeks ago, the province was sitting at around 78 per cent.

“Thank you to the quarter of a million Albertans who stepped up to protect themselves, their loved ones and our hospitals,” Kenney said.

The government introduced a QR code last week that could be scanned and provide a person’s vaccination status. The app to read the code is currently going through testing and should be available next week.

The Opposition said the business support is too little too late.

“It could still be four to six weeks until this funding is even available,” said Jon Carson, NDP critic for Service Alberta. “This support was needed months ago. Some businesses are still waiting for funding that was promised to them as far back as February. Once again, the UCP failed to act when the moment demanded it.

“Going into the long weekend, I was expecting the UCP to launch a reader for its QR code vaccine passport to keep Albertans safe. Instead we are still left with a paper system that the UCP has admitted is easy to forge, meaning unvaccinated people can still enter places where they shouldn’t be able to go.”

Thursday COVID-19 numbers

On Thursday, Alberta confirmed an additional 1,254 cases of COVID-19, bringing the active number of cases in the province to 18,411.

There were 1,094 people in hospital with COVID-19, with 248 of those people receiving care in the ICU.

According to Kenney, 70 per cent of the people in hospital are unvaccinated, while 87 per cent of those in the ICU are unvaccinated.

Of the 93 people admitted to the hospital with COVID-19 on Wednesday, 66 were unvaccinated.

Hinshaw said Thursday that 93 per cent of Alberta’s COVID-19 patients in ICU were unvaccinated (88 per cent had no doses, while five per cent had one dose).

An additional 13 deaths in people aged 55 to 91 were reported to Alberta Health over the past 24 hours, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.

To date, 2,814 Albertans have died due to COVID-19.

Over the last 24 hours, Alberta performed about 15,600 tests and the province’s positivity rate was around 8.1 per cent.

“It is encouraging to see four days with positivity under 10 per cent, but it is much too early to declare victory,” Hinshaw said.

“This weekend poses a significant risk… in order for numbers to keep going down, we need all Albertans to have a safe Thanksgiving by keeping numbers as small as possible.”

Kenney reminded unvaccinated Albertans that indoor gatherings are banned, while Albertans who are fully vaccinated can have up to 10 eligible people from two households.

“The second wave of COVID, which put severe pressure on our hospitals last fall, started very clearly around the family table of millions of Alberta households on Thanksgiving of last year,” Kenney said.

“(These) gains are very tentative.”

“They could all be lost overnight this weekend if Albertans do not follow the public health guidelines that we’ve put in place to protect our health-care system which is still under severe stress.”

There were alerts or outbreaks in 751 schools across Alberta, with 52 of those schools on outbreak.

To date, 307,019 Albertans have caught COVID-19. Of those, 285,794 have recovered.