Happy New Year! Here's a look at some of the key headlines from the past two weeks:
- COVID-19: Alberta reported about 8,250 new cases of COVID-19 from Dec. 23 to 27, bringing the total number of active cases to at least 15,000. Just two days later, Alberta reported a record-setting 2,775 new cases and then broke that record again on Dec. 30 with 4,000 new cases reported. Alberta finished 2021 with more than 21,000 active cases and nearly 400 people in hospital. The Edmonton zone had more than 6,200 active cases and more than 100 people in hospital due to COVID-19.
- New restrictions: On Dec. 22, Alberta opened third doses of COVID-19 vaccine to all Albertans aged 18 and older. On Christmas Eve, new health restrictions took effect, with large venues limited to 50% capacity, a maximum table capacity of 10 people in restaurants, pubs, and bars, and liquor service stopping at 11pm.
- Cold weather: Most of Alberta remained under an extreme cold warning throughout the holidays, with wind chill temperatures as cold as -45 degrees. The cold weather led to a pause in residential street cleaning, increased demand for furnace repair, a spike in carbon monoxide incidents, and shelter providers running at full capacity. Power consumption was near record highs.
- Winter break: The province announced on Dec. 30 that the winter break for K-12 students would be extended until Jan. 10, to give authorities more time to assess the impact of the Omicron variant. Alberta will also deliver 8.6 million rapid tests and 16.5 million masks to schools. Post-secondary students across the province will start the year online.
- World Juniors: The IIHF announced on Dec. 29 that it was cancelling the 2022 IIHF World Junior Championship after just four days and nine of 31 games played, due to an increase in the number of players testing positive for COVID-19. Though major events helped Edmonton's tourism industry rebound in 2021, Explore Edmonton estimates the city took a $27.5-million hit due to the cancellation of the world juniors.
- Reduced emissions: Total greenhouse gas emissions in Edmonton dropped by the equivalent of 2.5 million tonnes of CO2 over 2019 and 2020, according to new data, and the city is working to determine why. "I am incredibly excited that we've finally peaked and are on the decline for emissions," said Chandra Tomaras, the city's director of environment and climate resilience. Data for 2021 is expected to be released early this year.
- Warehouse park: The city has awarded a contract for its Warehouse Park project downtown to a consortium of companies including gh3, Claude Cormier + Associés, AECOM, Twenty/20 Communications, and Ombrages. The park, slated to open in 2025, will cover more than 1.47 hectares of land between 106 and 108 Street, and Jasper Avenue and 102 Avenue.
- Affordable housing: HomeEd has acquired 144 townhomes in Edmonton's Clareview neighbourhood for $26.5 million, which the organization said is "the start of an ambitious strategy to provide Edmontonians with greater access to quality, affordable housing." HomeEd plans to grow its portfolio of rental housing by at least 500 units by 2025.
- Elks coach: Chris Jones is the new head coach and general manager of the Edmonton Elks, the team announced on Dec. 21. Jones left Edmonton after winning the Grey Cup in 2015 for the Saskatchewan Roughriders where he won coach of the year in 2018. The Elks fired CEO Chris Presson, general manager Brock Sunderland, and head coach Jaimie Elizondo in November after a dismal 3-11 season.
- Police criticism: In a year-end interview, EPS chief Dale McFee said the pandemic and online criticisms of the police have taken a toll on the force. Negative attitudes about cops have made it harder to recruit as well. "Not so much that we haven't been able to fill, but it's getting to that point where it's close," McFee said.
- Social issues: In a year-end interview, Mayor Amarjeet Sohi told Global News he will focus on social issues and on strengthening relationships with the feds and the provincial government in 2022. "I am focused on Edmontonians. My role in this chair, as mayor of this city, is to make sure I am doing everything possible to make sure I have a productive working relationship with the provincial and federal governments… so we can deliver on behalf of Edmontonians, that we can make their life easy, that we can tackle societal issues," he said.
Photo: Ice District on Dec. 30 the day after the world junior hockey championship was cancelled. (Mack Male/Flickr)