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Banff lifts state of local emergency

Town of Banff is still empowered to enforce Alberta’s public health orders even without a state of local emergency.
20200605 Banff Ave 0151
Pedestrians walk down the middle of Banff Avenue. The 100 and 200 blocks of Banff Avenue and a portion of Caribou Street were closed to traffic to make more room for people on foot to be able to physically distance due to COVID-19. EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO⁠

BANFF – Banff has lifted its state of local emergency.

Town of Banff officials, however, caution residents and businesses to remain vigilant to avoid a second outbreak wave of the COVID-19 in the province by following health protocols.

The state of local emergency, which had been in place for 88 days, was rescinded Friday (June 12) due to the continuing decline of coronavirus cases in the province and the government’s earlier than planned move to stage two of its relaunch strategy.

Silvio Adamo, Banff’s director of emergency management, said that meant the Town of Banff no longer needed authority beyond its normal municipal resources to protect the community.

“Even though the peak of this public health crisis has passed, everyone – visitors and residents – in our community must avoid a ‘second wave’ COVID outbreak in Banff by remaining vigilant,” he said, noting this can be done by staying home if you’re sick, washing or sanitizing hands frequently, staying two metres apart from others and wearing a mask or face covering in crowded spaces.

Alberta Health Services (AHS) reported only four known COVID-19 cases in Banff National Park, and all patients have fully recovered. As of June 16, hospitalization rates remain low province-wide with 36 people in hospital, seven of whom are in intensive care. In total, 6,882 Albertans have recovered from COVID-19.

Heading into the weekend in Banff, tensions ran a little higher with reports of Americans vacationing in Banff even when Canada’s border to the U.S remains closed to most non-essential travel because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Referred to as the so-called Alaska loophole, healthy, non-symptomatic foreign nationals are allowed to travel through Canada for non-discretionary purposes like returning home to Alaska. RCMP are investigating some reports.

Town of Banff officials say the decision to rescind the state of local emergency was made after consulting with the local agencies and organizations involved in Banff’s emergency coordination centre and review by Banff town council.

Mayor Karen Sorensen said council was advised of the plan on Thursday (June 11), noting she is comfortable with that move given the municipality remains empowered to enforce Alberta’s public health orders even without the state of local emergency.

The public health orders, set by Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, include physical distancing requirements, restrictions on businesses as they reopen, and mandatory isolation orders.

“We are very thankful for all personal and professional sacrifices that were made in Banff to control the spread of COVID-19, but we can’t forget that the pandemic is still here and there is no vaccine yet,” said Mayor Sorensen.

“As we welcome our Alberta community back, and when more Canadians start heading to Banff, we need to take the health measures very seriously, to keep everyone safe, and to maintain the ramping up of our economy.”

Visitation is slowly climbing, and according to the Town of Banff, vehicle traffic on Saturday and Sunday (June 13-14) was 44 per cent of what it was for same weekend last year, with 22,663 vehicles at both entrances compared to 51,293. 

Mayor Sorensen said it was good to see people taking advantage of the downtown vehicle closure, which includes the 100 and 200 blocks of Banff Avenue and a portion of Caribou Street.

“There were more pedestrians than I have seen yet, and my understanding is traffic flow was fine,” she said.

“It was really good to see people out and about; they seem to be enjoying the atmosphere on Banff Avenue and are getting used to being able to walk on the road.”

The Town patrols the downtown core to make sure visitors and residents abide by the two-metre social distancing regulation.

“We believe people are abiding by social distancing guidelines and the businesses are definitely showing leadership in implementing very high standards for safety,” said Jason Darrah, the Town of Banff’s communications manager.

Darrah said the Alberta government’s change on Friday to stage two of the province’s phased relaunch strategy meant some businesses were scrambling to make changes. 

“For the Banff Avenue pedestrian zone, we understand more businesses will be participating with street presence as soon as ordered tents or furniture arrives,” he said.

“Even on Bear Street, where the construction is moving ahead, many businesses have reopened and are capitalizing on the lack of cars to set up chairs in front of cafés and restaurants.”

Banff’s state of local emergency was declared on March 17, and renewed every week. 

It was first set up to impose capacity restrictions on businesses and gatherings in town, before the Alberta government declared a provincial public health emergency.

After confirming the measure with the Alberta Emergency Management Agency, the Town also used the state of local emergency authority to set up checkstops at both entrances to the community during the peak of the pandemic in Alberta.

The emergency coordination centre’s activity will be reduced, but it continues to monitor COVID-19 cases in Alberta and work with AHS to maintain public health orders in the townsite, including monitoring all businesses to ensure safety measures are in place. 

The emergency coordination centre is prepared to re-activate involvement of its sections and work with other organizations in the event AHS requires support for isolation or quarantine management, contact tracing or other local measures.

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