The province is introducing further measures in the wake of a new COVID-19 variant.

Premier Jason Kenney, health minister Jason Copping, chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, and the president and CEO of Alberta Health Services (AHS), Dr. Verna Yiu, were all in attendance during Monday's (Nov.29) COVID-19 update and provided information on the Omicron variant.

The Omicron COVID-19 variant, first detected in Southern Africa, was declared a variant of concern by the World Health Organization (WHO) late last week. According to Kenney, the variant is associated with increased mutations and transmissibility, adding the situation is "evolving quickly."

"As the variant spreads to other countries worldwide, more must be done and done quickly to prevent an influx of variant cases," said Kenney.

While there have been no confirmed cases of the Omicron variant in Alberta, the province is rolling out new measures for people returning from international destinations in response.

All COVID-19 cases returning from abroad will undergo a full case investigation as well as contact tracing. PCR testing will be recommended for all close contacts and rapid testing for household contacts.

For cases of the Omicron variant in people who did not return from abroad, all close contacts will be investigated and asked about their symptoms in the 14 days following exposure. Anyone with symptoms will be treated as a probable case.

On Monday, the premier also announced that people could expect to see news of a "significant expansion" in the eligibility for COVID-19 booster doses.

Changes to AHS vaccine policy

In other vaccine news, Alberta Health Services is set to temporarily introduce "frequent and targeted" COVID-19 testing at sites considered at significant risk of service disruption resulting from staffing shortages due to unimmunized employees. 

Under AHS' current policy, employees who chose not to be fully immunized and have not been granted an accommodation would be put on an unpaid leave of absence. According to Dr. Yiu, about 3,000 staff members have either not provided their vaccination status or have reported they are unvaccinated.

In order to protect patient care, particularly in rural areas, AHS policy will now allow for proof of negative COVID-19 tests in some communities. The proof of negative COVID-19 testing program begins on Dec. 13. AHS' immunization policy deadline will also be adjusted to Dec. 13 to accommodate the testing program. 

The province announced 806 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday (325 on Friday, 253 on Saturday, and 228 on Sunday). 432 people are in hospital, and 77 are in intensive care. There are 4,850 active cases in Alberta. 

Seven COVID-related deaths were reported on Monday, bringing the total to 3,242. 

A total of 6.87-million doses of the vaccine have now been administered in the province; 88.7 per cent of the population 12+ have received at least one dose, while 83.8 per cent are fully vaccinated. 

So far, 184,000 kids aged 5-11 have been vaccinated, and 57,000 additional bookings are in place over the next four weeks.