The city of Edmonton began the process Thursday evening of forcing personal services shops to close as part of the ongoing response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.
That includes hair salons, barber shops, nail salons, tattoo parlours, health spas, tanning salons and body rub centres. Council ordered the closures because given the nature of the businesses, they could not abide by social distancing rules.
The directive was given to interim city manager Adam Laughlin to enact, by a vote of city council’s emergency advisory committee, which also extended the state of emergency another seven days.
“It’s effective immediately,” Laughlin told a news conference after the councillors voted to enact the move.
“Implementation is something that we will do over the course of the next hours and from a closure perspective we’re going to be working with the businesses to do that as compassionately and appropriately as possible.”
The order affects 1,000 storefront and an estimated 500 home-based locations.
“This particular category of businesses that’s being impacted by these orders is a line of business where physical contact and close contact with customers is the norm,” said Mayor Don Iveson, who chaired the meeting from home where he has been self isolating since Sunday, recovering from a cold.
Laughlin said the city is still working through creating a list of essential services, which is could complement a similar list being compiled by the province.
A preliminary list was presented to the councillors that includes grocery stores and pharmacies, telecommunications and IT service providers, businesses that support power generation, natural gas distribution and clean drinking water, businesses that ensure global continuity of supply of petroleum and petroleum by-products, banking and financial services and construction.
Malls are not part of this. Laughlin said the city instead will continue to treat them like parks, pathways and other spaces where they will continue to enforce the requirement that everyone stays far enough apart to keep physical distancing a minimum of two metres.
Laughlin told the committee the city is mulling over the notion of bringing in even tougher rules.
“It’s one that we, just being brutally honest, we wrestle with every day in terms of how far and how fast we go with this.”
Iveson said council fully supports all of the emergency measures the City of Edmonton has taken to enforce social distancing in order to flatten the COVID-19 curve.
Iveson said he doesn’t want to go to the measures mayors in Italy have, but he will if he has to.
A viral video surfaced a few days ago, showing six political leaders angrily railing against quarantine breakers in Italy. The supercut shows the mayors ranting about ignorant citizens who are putting others’ lives at risk and threatening to use their powers to keep people indoors.
City staff are also looking at closing some right-hand lanes on roads to create shared use paths, in order to give people on sidewalks more room to pass each other, respecting the two-metre or six-foot clearance.
Laughlin told the committee that getting staff to put up barriers is the problem. “It is a consideration that we have. We’d like to do everything for everybody, but it’s just the timing on quickly we can implement these treatments.”
Money questions on how COVID-19 is impacting city operations, including whether the City continues with construction projects, will be discussed at a regular council meeting on Monday.
Mayor Iveson said he’s in discussions with Deputy Prime Minister Crystia Freeland and other members of the Big Cities Mayors’ Caucus to see if financial relief can come to the city, in lieu of taxpayers paying property taxes for the time being.
Council’s Emergency Advisory Committee will meet every Thursday for the foreseeable future, until the local emergency ends. Councillors will have to vote every week to keep the state of local emergency in place.
Iveson said Thursday he was feeling much better but would remain in isolation for the time being. He was not tested for COVID-19, saying there is a greater need to test people who must interact with other people as part of their job.
“The test availability is still limited, so if there’s a firefighter or a senior or an ambulance driver who needs that test more than I do, then so be it. I am happy to isolate and take the appropriate precautions.”
It has been three weeks since Alberta saw its first case of COVID-19.
On Thursday, the province’s total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases had increased by 67 compared to a day earlier, bringing the total to 486. There are 21 people in hospital and 10 of them are in the intensive care unit.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said 34 of the overall cases are believed to be the result of community transmission.
For more information on the number of COVID-19 cases in Alberta and where they are located, visit the Alberta government’s website.
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