'Tough but necessary': Alberta declares a public health emergency, banning indoor gathering and temporarily closes schools

Elisabetta Bianchini
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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has declared a public health emergency in the province, adding enhanced restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19 for at least three weeks.

“If we do not take the right measures, a growing number of Albertans will have to wait longer and longer for important surgeries, many of them in pain and suffering,” Kenney said at a press conference on Tuesday. “To be blunt, this will cost lives as well.”

The following rules have been put in place, effective immediately:

  • No indoor social gatherings are permitted, including in private homes, public spaces or workplaces, and close contacts must be limited to only individuals in the same household

  • People who live alone can have up to two non-household contacts for the duration of the restrictions

  • Work and support group meetings are not considered social gatherings, but attendance should be “limited” and these rules do not apply to visits from caregivers, health of child care providers

  • Outdoor social gatherings are limited to 10 people and gatherings that require both indoor and outdoor time, including backyard gatherings, are not permitted

  • Wedding and funerals are now limited to 10 people but any receptions are prohibited (this does not include staff or organizers)

  • Places of worship must restrict attendance to one-third of normal capacity, masks are required and physical distancing must be maintained between households

  • Masks are mandatory in all workplaces in Calgary and Edmonton, “except when working alone in an office or a safely distanced cubicle or an appropriate barrier is in place”

  • Employers have been urged to allow employees to work from home

The following restrictions to businesses and service will come into effect on Nov. 27 in the purple (enhanced) regions:

  • Banquet halls, conference centres, trade shows, auditoria and concert venues, non-approved/licensed markets, community centres, children’s play places or indoor playgrounds, all levels of sports, must close for in-person services

  • Restaurants, bars, pubs and lounges can operate with a maximum of six people from the same household at a table and no movement between tables, people who live alone can go to these locations with their two non-household contacts (seated eating and drinking only)

  • Liquor can be sold until 10:00 p.m. and food-serving businesses must close to in person-dining at 11:00 p.m.

  • Retail (including liquor and cannabis), grocery stores, pharmacies, clothing stores, computer and technology stores, hardware, automotive, farmers markets approved by Alberta Agriculture and Forestry, unlicensed outdoor seasonal markets, movie theatres, museums and galleries, libraries, casinos (slots only), amusement parks, water parks, bingo halls and racing centres can operate at 25 per cent of capacity

  • Indoor fitness, recreation, dance and yoga studios, martial arts, gymnastics and private or public swimming pools can be open for individual studio time, training or exercise only, at 25 per cent capacity

  • Only appointment-based operations can continue for personal services (hair salons and barbershops, esthetics, manicure, pedicure, body waxing and make-up, piercing and tattoo services), wellness services (acupuncture, massage and reflexology), professional services (lawyers, mediators, accountants and photographers), private one-on-one lessons, hotels, motels, hunting and fishing lodges

Students across Alberta in Grades 7 to 12 will see in-class learning halted from Nov. 30 until Jan. 11. Diploma exams are optional for rest of the school year, and “students and families can choose to write an exam or receive an exemption for the April, June and August 2021 exams.”

Students in Kindergarten to Grade 6 will continue in-class learning until Dec. 18 and will move to at-home learning until Jan. 8, not including the winter break. In-person classes will resume on Jan. 11.

“These measures are tough but they are necessary,” Kenney said. “They are needed to protect our healthcare system from being overwhelmed and to ensure that Albertans can access care for medical needs besides COVID-19.”

When asked why the provincial government has not introduced stricter restrictions at this point, Alberta’s premier stressed the importance of maintaining “fundamental Charter protected rights and freedoms.”

“In so much of the debate, where have we forgotten about the Charter of Rights and Freedoms? Since when should governments start with impairment of fundamental Charter protected right and freedoms rather than engage in such an impairment as a last and final resort,” he said.

But Kenney did not rule out the possibility of more restrictive measures coming into place following the three week period, based on metrics like Alberta’s effective reproductive value and stress on the healthcare system.

“If we do not start to bend the curve with this latest round of measures and greater effort by Albertans, let me be blunt, we will impose stricter measures” he said.

“We resisted calls for a lockdown of our society because of the profound damage it would cause, especially for the poor and the vulnerable who are most affected by policies like that, by throwing hundreds of thousands of people out of work and deepening the mental health crisis.”

With regards to businesses, the premier admitted his government made a “grave mistake” in the spring when a “stupidly arbitrary” distinction was made between essential and non-essential retail businesses. Kenney said this allowed massive international retailers like Walmart and Costco to sell “everything” because they have grocery and pharmaceuticals, while shutting down thousands of small and medium-sized businesses.

“We tried to undo that as quickly as we realized it and saw the impact, but we are not doing that now,” Kenney said. “We are putting a capacity limit because we have to do some things to limit general social and community transmission.”

For anyone who is upset about these new restrictions, “it’s not good enough to complain.”

“You tell us, how are we going to ensure timely access to health services for people who need them if the hospitals get crowded out with a growing number of COVID patients? If there’s somebody with a way of doing that, without any restrictions, I’d like to know what it is.”