CALGARY -- There will be no public fireworks display put on by the City of Calgary for New Year's Eve.

Mayor Naheed Nenshi made the announcement during a regular COVID-19 update on Thursday afternoon.

Instead, Nenshi encouraged Calgarians to plan an evening at home on Dec, 31 with members of their immediate bubble.

"There are many ways you can mark the occasion by staying safe," he said.

"I've had the same wild and exciting New Year's party for the last 25 years. We go to the same people's house, it is not in any way wild, we get caught up on our year ... and for the first time in decades, we won't be doing that this year."

The city has started a free firepit program in some parks and Nenshi said there are toboggan hills available as ways to celebrate in a socially distant way.

"There are opporuntities to celebrate outdoors in small groups," he said. "There's plenty of toboggan hills and cross-country ski and snowshoe tracks and parks and pathways for a winter walk. Some outdoor skating rinks will be available, including Olympic Plaza."

Indoor gatherings are banned in Alberta under the province's health measures, but outdoor gatherings can have up to 10 people.

Started just a few weeks ago, CEMA Chief Sue Henry said more than 900 requests had been made as of Thursday morning for one of 16 firepits that can be reserved. There are 37 regional, first-come, first-served firepits in parks.

Bookings for the reservable firepits can be made up to one week in advance.

Calgary remains in a state of local emergency, which was declared last week, and Alberta also remains under a state of public health emergency due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Enforcement ramping up

Officials announced Monday enforcement of public health orders would be stepped up and on Wednesday, three people who are believed to be organizers of recent anti-mask rallies were ticketed. The fine for contravening a health order is $1,200 along with a court appearance, where a fine of up to $100,000 can be imposed.

During Thursday's update, Calgary police Chief Mark Neufeld said tickets are being issued to three more people in connection with the rallies.

"With changing health guidance, I can assure you we will continue to be reasonable ... but the biggest challenge that we seem to be facing right now are those who are blatantly ignoring the laws," he said.

"The issue is not that they are unaware and require more education, the issue is more that they simply disagree and these people will be charged accordingly.

"We've acknowledged people's Constitutional right to gather and to have their voices heard. And in fact, we attend many of these sorts of protests and demonstrations throughtout the year and uphold those very rights, but limits have been temporarily placed on those rights and freedoms in the interst of public safety and the health of our citizens."

Neufeld said the place for debating the merits of the health measures is in a courtroom, rather than at Olympic Plaza or Stephen Avenue, "where judges will hear the evidence, hear the arguments and ultimately make a decision."

Vaccinations expected to start in January

On Wednesday, the province announced the first phase of vaccinations will happen between January and April, involving more than 400,000 seniors and staff in continuing care homes and frontline health care workers.

Premier Jason Kenney said Alberta will begin to receive shipments as early as Jan. 4, after Health Canada approved the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, both proven to be approximately 95 per cent effective after trials.

The second phase will happen in May and June and third phase through the summer months.

Despite the good news around a vaccine, Nenshi implored Calgarians to continue the battle against the novel coronavirus.

"Even though, like you, I'm so excited when I see the news of the vaccine, when I hear that in other countries they're within weeks of people starting to get the vaccine, I need to remind you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but we've gotta stay in the tunnel, we can't crash out of the tunnel," he said.

"And at the rate things are going they are going to get worse before they get better, and we have to be ready for that and we have to be able to prevent that in every possible way."

The premier appointed Municipal Affairs Deputy Minister and Lt.-Gen. Paul Wynnyk to lead the province’s vaccine taskforce. He already spearheaded the province’s PPE roll out at the start of the pandemic.

“This is an absolutely critical task,” Kenney said. “Smooth and rapid vaccine distribution will not only be essential to our economic recovery but it will be a matter of life and death for many Albertans and their families.

The vaccines will be stored in 30 depots across the province and be rolled out in three phases.

The premier explained the Moderna vaccine has to be stored at -20 C, and the Pfizer vaccine has to be even colder, at -80 C.

Thirteen of Alberta’s storage depots are capable of storing the Pfizer vaccine, he said, and the government is ordering more freezers.