CALGARY -- A decision on whether to move to the second phase of reopening in Alberta won't be made until March 1, meaning the earliest date it can happen is March 8, the province's top doctor said Monday.

"Businesses have asked us for a week's notice to be able to prepare," said Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw during a regular update on Monday afternoon.

"And so that's something that we will strive to do. The exact decisions, as I said, would be made at the earliest on March 1 and so we'll see how our numbers are trending over the next several days … businesses should be planning for a reopening as early as the following week."

Hinshaw said the rate of hospitalization has been coming down, but case numbers have been rising in recent days.

"With that in mind, we will be taking the full three weeks to assess the data and assess the best way forward," she said.

"We are being cautious as it is too early to say if this recent increase is significant, or but a temporary pause in the strong downward trend we have seen over the past several months, it's extra time will allow us to evaluate our current situation."

The province reported 273 new COVID-19 cases on Monday, including 11 of the variant strains.

There are 324 people in hospital, including 53 in ICU.

Alberta began a four-step phased reopening plan earlier this month, which came into effect Feb. 8, when hospitalizations dropped below 600.

Phase 2 will happen when hospitalizations fall below 450, Phase 3 when they fall below 300 and Phase 4 when they fall below 150.

A minimum of 21 days must pass before a decision on whether to move to the next phase will be made.