Too many Albertans have been ignoring public health orders related to the COVID-19 crisis, so the province is bringing in new penalties for people who aren’t compliant, Premier Jason Kenney announced on Wednesday.
“Sadly, not everyone seems to get it,” he told reporters at a news conference in Edmonton.
Kenney said as a result, the province is “legally requiring people to act responsibly” as opposed to just asking people to do so.
At the same news conference, Kenney said the province’s total number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 had increased by 61 compared to a day earlier, bringing the total to 419.
Despite the rising numbers, Kenney thanked health officials for “excellent pandemic planning” and for “managing the early stages of the outbreak effectively.”
New rules and enforcement mechanisms
Among the more stringently enforced measures Kenney referenced Wednesday is that it is now mandatory for travellers returning from outside of Canada to self-isolate.
“This legal requirement also applies to close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases, as well as to any individual with symptoms, such as a fever, cough, sore throat or runny nose,” the government said in a news release.
The government said it has made amendments to the Procedures Regulation under the Provincial Offences Procedures Act, to empower law enforcement officers like community peace officers and police officers to issue tickets to enforce public health orders.
Kenney said that eventually he would like to see his government make such enforcement provisions permanent through legislation tabled in the Alberta legislature.
Fines for violating an order can now cost as much as $1,000 per offence while courts will also be able to levy fines of up to $100,000 for a first offence and up to $500,000 for a subsequent offence for “more serious violations.”
Fines can be issued for violations of any of the following public health orders:
- any person who has travelled outside of Canada must go into mandatory self-isolation for 14 days from their return, plus an additional 10 days from the onset of any symptoms should they occur, whichever is longer.
- any person who shows COVID-19 symptoms must self-isolate for a minimum of 10 days from the start of their symptoms, or until the symptoms resolve, whichever is longer. Symptoms can include cough, fever, shortness of breath, runny nose or a sore throat.
- any person who has been identified as a close contact of a person with COVID-19 must go into mandatory self-isolation for 14 days from the date of last having been exposed to COVID-19, plus an additional 10 days from the onset of any symptoms should they occur, whichever is longer.
- mass gatherings must be limited to no more than 50 people.
- access to public recreational facilities, private entertainment facilities, bars and nightclubs is prohibited
- visits to long-term care and other continuing care facilities is limited to essential visitors only.
Complaints regarding people not following orders can be submitted here.
“Exemptions will continue to be assessed on a case-by-case basis by public health officials,” the government said.
Kenney called the province’s increased ability to enforce compliance “a reasonable and prudent response” to some Albertans not following the health orders.
Growing number of COVID-19 cases in Alberta
Kenney was joined at Wednesday’s news conference by the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, who described Alberta’s total number of COVID-19 cases as “significant case numbers.”
She noted that 33 of the 419 cases are believed to be community transmissions and that of the 20 people with the illness who are currently hospitalized, eight are in intensive care units.
Of the new cases, Hinshaw said two involve people at the McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre in Calgary, the same facility where Hinshaw said Tuesday that a resident had died. The death marked Alberta’s second fatality linked to the novel coronavirus. The person who died was a woman in her 80s.
Hinshaw also told reporters that her team was made aware of a COVID-19 outbreak late Tuesday night at a group home for adults with developmental disabilities. The cases are connected to the Nelson Home in Calgary.
“So far, one staff and two residents have tested positive,” she said. “We are also aware of nine cases to date in staff and residents of long-term care or other continuing care facilities.
“I know that many Albertans are concerned about these cases and about the spread of COVID-19. I am concerned as well.”
Hinshaw called Kenney’s decision to ramp up enforcement of health orders “essential to protect the health and safety of Albertans.”
She said various types of group homes and care centres will now need to enforce stricter protocols and that updated standards documents will be made available to them shortly.
Hinshaw also reiterated the importance of all Albertans understanding they have a responsibility to follow health orders to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
She said even at home, families can help by not sharing bowls of snacks and food, cups, glasses and utensils. She noted that a number of people who contracted COVID-19 at an Edmonton curling bonspiel earlier this month are believed to have caught the illness at a buffet related to the event.
Hinshaw told reporters that she spoke with a number of the province’s faith-based leaders about major religious events like Easter and Ramadan approaching. She said she emphasized that now is not the time for people to take part in family reunions, travel or to host large family dinners.
Of Alberta’s confirmed COVID-19 cases, 250 are in the Calgary zone, 100 are in the Edmonton zone, 23 are in the North zone, 35 are in the Central zone, 10 are in the South zone and in one case, the zone is still not clear.
The number of cases where recoveries have been confirmed stands at three. Hinshaw explained that testing people to confirm they’ve recovered is not a good use of resources.
For more information on the confirmed cases in Alberta, and where they are located, visit the Alberta government’s website.
Watch below: Some Global News videos from a news conference in Edmonton on Wednesday where officials provided an update on Alberta’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.