Canada's Alberta province drops COVID-19 quarantine for close contacts

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By Nia Williams and Moira Warburton

CALGARY, Alberta (Reuters) -The Canadian province of Alberta on Wednesday said it is dropping quarantine requirements for close contacts of COVID-19 cases, easing public health measures just as neighboring British Columbia reinstates a mask mandate in one region to tackle surging cases.

Quarantine for close contacts will shift from being mandatory to recommended from Thursday and Alberta is also scaling back contact tracing. The changes come as new cases in the province jump to 194, up from 134 the previous day.

Chief medical officer Deena Hinshaw told a news conference the province needs to scale back the focus on COVID-19 so resources can be deployed to tackle other respiratory illnesses that are likely to climb in the fall.

"COVID is not over, we just need to integrate how we manage it into how we manage other illnesses as well," she said, while urging Albertans to get vaccinated. So far, 64% of Albertans have had two shots.

Canada's federal guidelines still say people should quarantine if they are in close contact with a COVID-19 case.

On the same day, British Columbia said it will bring back a mask mandate in indoor public spaces in the central Okanagan region, including the city of Kelowna, located around 400 km (250 miles) northeast of Vancouver.

Officials said they were seeing transmission of the highly contagious Delta variant driving case increases in the region, particularly among young people who are not fully immunized.

Interior Health, whose jurisdiction includes central Okanagan, reported 113 new cases on Wednesday, significantly higher than other regions in the province, which had 185 infections in total.

Across Canada, the seven-day moving average of new cases reached 557, an increase of 36% over the previous week, government data released on Wednesday showed. With 57.5% of the eligible population fully vaccinated, many provinces have dropped strict lockdown measures and gradually reopened their economies.

(Reporting by Moira Warburton in Vancouver and Nia Williams in Calgary; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Richard Pullin)

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