ALBERTA – To help curb the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in the province, Premier Jason Kenney has announced that a state of public health emergency has been declared.
“The situation is very serious and we are taking action more effectively to protect Albertans against this pandemic,” Kenney said during a press conference Tuesday (March 17). “Decisive action is needed.”
In a meeting Monday evening (March 16), Kenney was granted all necessary emergency powers by the Emergency Management Committee of Cabinet in response to the virus.
Under the act, an additional range of authority is given to the government and Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
“The single greatest concern in the future is coping with the peak time in the pandemic,” Kenney said, adding that Alberta Health Services anticipates the height of the pandemic to take place later this spring.
Given the significant increase of COVID-19 cases in the province over the last week, Kenney said it became clear that more aggressive actions were needed to contain the virus.
The challenge the province faces is keeping the peak of the pandemic below the maximum capacity of the health system, Kenney said. At the same time, they are working to expand this capacity of the system before that peak is reached.
The availability of trained personal will be critical, he said, and the declaration allows the chief medical officer and Alberta Health Services extra authority for scheduling, recruiting medical professionals, or cancelling vacation time.
“That will give certainty of our ability to provide the medical care that Albertans will need,” Kenney said.
The cabinet met again Tuesday morning in response to the escalating number of infections in the province, Kenney said.
Under the direction of Hinshaw and her team, new measures on social distancing are being recommended to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the province.
The Alberta government is also moving forward with “aggressive new measures” to contain the virus, said the premier, including cancelling any public gathering of more than 50 people, immediate prohibitions on attending all public recreational facilities and private entertainment facilities including casinos, bingo halls, bars, theatres and children’s play centres.
Prohibitions have also been put in place to prohibit attendance at recreational facilities, arenas, science centres, art galleries, fitness centres and community centres.
Kenney added that conferences, family events and worship events of more than 50 people are also barred under the new measures.
The order will not apply to health care facilities, to the legislature, grocery stores, airports and other essential services. Non-profits, community and religious soup kitchens, along with homeless and women’s shelters, will be exempt from the order.
Sit down restaurants, pubs and cafés (excluding buffets) will be allowed to remain open, but no more than 50 people or half of the capacity can be in the building. Drive-thru, takeout and delivery options will be allowed and expanded to include off-sale of liquor at licensed facilities.
“I recognize these measures will have a profound impact on the lives of Albertans, but they are frankly necessary in the face of this growing pandemic,” Kenney said.
“Around the world, a variety of dramatic measures are being implemented to contain the spread of COVID-19.”
The enforcement of the rules will vary in the province, he said, but will largely fall to local health officials to enforce these measures.
Kenney said the government is committed to ensuring Albertans have access to the help they need, adding that after speaking with grocery store chains like Walmart and Loblaws, there is no need to hoard supplies.
“They have all of the supplies that are necessary to fulfil the demand for the future,” Kenney said.
“Supply chains and food security are not compromised. There is no need to engage in hoarding or panic buying.”
To assist Albertan’s affected by COVID-19, the government has pledged an immediate injection of $60 million to support civil society organizations, charities and non-profits helping those who are most vulnerable and under isolation, Kenney said. The fund will be dispersed before March 31.
To support seniors and vulnerable community members who are isolated due to the virus, $30 million will be granted by the province.
Funds will also be dedicated to immediately aid homeless and women’s shelters to address a range of needs in tandem with addressing staff shortages due to staff going into self-isolation.
The fund will be dispersed through the Family and Community Support Services, Kenney said to organizations already providing support services in the community.
He said a range of additional economic measures have been approved to support Albertans and will be announced later this week. He added that planning is already taking place in pursuit of the economic recovery of the province after the crisis has passed.
“I want to assure Albertans that the entire government of Alberta is totally focused on dealing with this crisis,” Kenney said. “This is a serious moment in our history and COVID-19 will test all of us. But I believe, I know that this province is resilient and we are ready for the test.”
Follow RMOToday.com's COVID-19 special section for the latest local and national news on the coronavirus pandemic, as well as resources, FAQs and more.