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HRM won’t rule out state of emergency declaration as COVID-19 cases rise

Halifax Mayor Mike Savage will join top city officials and emergency planners in a COVID-19 update on March 18, 2020. Alexa MacLean/Global News

As the number of COVID-19 cases in Nova Scotia rises to 12, the Halifax Regional Municipality isn’t ruling out any preventative measures, including the declaration of a local state of emergency.

It’s reassuring the public, however, that the step isn’t necessary in the city’s current state.

“At this point in time, we haven’t needed to declare a state of emergency to do the things we’ve done, which have been quite extraordinary by normal circumstances,” Halifax Mayor Mike Savage told reporters on Wednesday.

“The state of emergency is something we’re always considering as I think all governments are across the country and around the world.”

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In a press conference, the municipality’s top planners said they meet every morning to reassess their protocols and compare them with best practices in other jurisdictions.

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“We want to operate on a no-surprise policy,” added Savage.

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In recent days, the Alberta cities of Banff, Red Deer and Calgary have all declared their own local states of emergency.

The Halifax Regional Municipality is following cues from the provincial government as it responds to the crisis, shuttering customer service desks, restricting public transit and encouraging employees to work from home.

But essential services, including fire, police, waste removal and 311, all remain in place.

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On Wednesday, the provincial government confirmed that the number of COVID-19 cases had nearly doubled from the previous day. All of the impacted individuals are between the ages of 30 and 80, and are in self-isolation.

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The municipality has been rapidly responding to these updates, closing all of its recreational centres, libraries, pools, arenas and planning and development centres in an effort to fight the spread of infection.

Encouraging social distancing even further, Halifax Transit has waived fares for riders, restricted the number of passengers on buses and ferries, and implemented strict new cleaning regimes.

Halifax Regional Council has also cancelled its upcoming meeting, opting to handle most agenda affairs remotely until further notice. Savage confirmed Wednesday it is examining its options for holding future council meetings remotely as well.

Nova Scotia Power has offered relief to some customers with a promise to keep the lights on, even if bills go unpaid during the pandemic.

The Halifax Regional Police are taking social distancing measures too; beginning Thursday, both its Central Division Community Office at the Halifax Shopping Centre and Spryfield Community Office will be closed to the public until further notice.

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