EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says he expects the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic to hit in several weeks, and that the more Albertans keep distancing, the faster and better it will be.
"This is an absolutely critical moment," Kenney told reporters Monday.
"We expect the peak to hit several weeks from now. And how high that peak goes then depends a lot on how people conduct themselves now and this weekend and the weekend to come.
"Nice weather is not a licence to go out there in large groups."
Kenney said other changes are coming, including a fire ban in various areas of the province ahead of the upcoming Easter long weekend.
"We're quite concerned about the possibility of managing this pandemic and then having a lot of wildfires at the same time."
Over the next two days, Kenney said his United Conservative government will be rolling out projections and models on how they believe the pandemic will play out in the province.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, announced 98 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, bringing the total in the province to 1,348.
She also said there has been one additional death — a woman in her 80s at the McKenzie Towne care centre in Calgary. There have so far been 11 deaths at the facility — nearly half of the province's 24 fatalities.
Kenney said he will address the province in a televised speech Tuesday night, and will follow that up Wednesday with further details on projections and plans for the pandemic and for the economy, which has fallen under twin hammer blows of the virus and a collapse in oil prices.
"I ask people to be prepared for what can be some very challenging numbers, as we look at the prospective damage that this virus can still do in our province," Kenney said.
He noted Alberta is a global leader in testing per capita and its health system has the capacity to deal with the crisis, but challenges remain.
He said about one month's supply remains of N-95 respirator masks, which are critical to front-line health staff. But he added, "We are constantly seeking more supplies and ordering from suppliers around the world and, of course, we hope to participate in domestic procurement efforts."
The province previously announced a range of economic aid packages and programs for Albertans facing layoffs or hardship.
A recent one-time payment of $1,146 for those who had to self-isolate but wait until April for expanded federal aid to kick in, will help an estimated 90,000 Albertans, the premier said.
The original budget for the payout was $50 million but is now expected to come in at $110 million.
The Opposition NDP said the qualifications for the program, which has now ended, were too narrow and too many people were left stranded because of glitches and crashes in its online application program.
NDP Labour critic Christina Gray said Kenney must do more.
"The UCP claimed the provincial benefit would serve as a bridge to the federal program," she said.
"But for many Albertans it has been a bridge to nowhere."
Kenney said staff are still reaching out to applicants.
"The program turned out to be twice as large and twice as generous as anticipated," he said.
"The system simply wasn't set up to cope with those demands."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 6, 2020.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press