Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced Friday that some COVID-19 public health measures will be eased on indoor fitness centres, school sports, restaurants and bars due to lower hospitalization numbers.

The changes are to start Feb. 8.

Kenney said the number of people in hospital with COVID-19 has dipped below 600 and, while Albertans need to continue to be cautious, some rules can be relaxed.

One-on-one training will be permitted in fitness gyms, dance studios and skating rinks.

School-related children's sports and activities will be allowed to use off-site facilities.

And up to six people from the same household, or those who live alone with two close contacts, can dine in restaurants, cafes and pubs, with liquor service ending at 10 p.m. and dining at 11 p.m. Staff must collect contact information from one person from each table.

"There’s a mental health crisis in this province that has been deepened and worsened by the economic damage of the past 10 months," Kenney told a news conference.

"To tell small business owners that they may be shut indefinitely, to give them no path or sense of hope, leads to even greater despair.

"We have to give, I think, a measured path that is safe but also presents a sense of hope."

On Friday, Alberta reported 543 new cases of COVID-19 and 14 additional deaths. There were 594 people in hospital, with 110 of those in intensive care. Hospitalizations peaked in Alberta at 795 on Dec. 30.

#Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced on Friday, January 29, 2021, that some #COVID19 public health measures will be eased on indoor fitness centres, school sports, restaurants and bars due to lower hospitalization numbers. #AbLeg #abpoli

Using hospitalization benchmarks, Kenney said further restrictions may be eased.

The next step, if hospitalizations are under 450, would be to change the rules for retail businesses, community halls, hotels, banquet halls and conference centres.

If hospitalizations go below 300, restrictions would ease for casinos, museums, movie theatres, churches and adult sports.

Kenney said he is worried about more contagious COVID-19 variants. Alberta has detected 31 cases of the COVID-19 variant from the United Kingdom and six of the variant from South Africa.

"If cases of COVID-19 surge again, if we start moving once again to exponential growth like we saw in November-December, and if somehow one of these new viral variants takes hold in our community and begins to spread at rates seen in other parts in the world, we will have to impose stronger restrictions again," he said.

The United Conservative government brought in strict lockdown measures, closing non-essential businesses and schools, during the first wave of the pandemic last spring. In early December, as infections spiked to well over 1,000 a day, Kenney announced another lockdown.

Last week, hair salons were allowed to reopen and limits on funerals and outdoor gatherings were loosened.

Kenney said it's regrettable to see recent reports of some people and businesses thumbing their noses at the current health restrictions. He said Friday's announcement to ease some of those rules was driven by data.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical health officer, said people still need to follow the rules that are in place and do their best to limit their contacts.

"We can further slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect ourselves from the risk of variants by continuing to limit as many in-person interactions as possible in every facet of our day to day lives."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 29, 2021