The provincial government announced some big changes Friday as the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rose to 542 in Alberta. Fifty-six new cases were confirmed Friday.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said two more cases were confirmed at McKenzie Towne Continuing Care Centre in Calgary.
“We suspect up to 42 of these total cases may be community transmission from an unknown source,” Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.
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Twenty-three people remain in hospital and 10 are in intensive care units. No new fatalities were announced. Thirty-three Albertans have recovered.
New rules in Alberta
Premier Jason Kenney said the restriction on mass gatherings was being tightened. People can no longer gather in groups of under 50; they must be smaller than 15. That includes indoor and outdoor events, the premier said, like weddings and funerals.
Kenney stressed the two-metre social distancing rule must be observed.
Alberta also announced the closure of some non-essential businesses. Restrictions will be in place for:
- Close-contact businesses (including hair salons and barbershops, tattoo and piercing studios, aesthetic services, as well as wellness studios and clinics and non-emergency and non-critical health services provided by regulated health professionals or registered professionals including dentistry, physiotherapy, massage, podiatry, chiropractic and optometry services.)
- Dine-in restaurants (will no longer be able to offer dine-in service. Take-out and delivery services will continue to be available.)
- Non-essential retail services (that fall into the categories of clothing, computer and gaming stores, and services in shopping malls and shopping centres such as hobby and toys, gift and specialty items and furniture.)
“This was a difficult decision to make, but we must do everything we can to protect the safety of Albertans and limit the spread of COVID-19,” Kenney said.
“Grocery stores, pharmacies, delivery services and other essential businesses will continue to provide Albertans with the goods and services they need, and we’ll look to Alberta’s business leaders to find innovate ways to continue remote operations and protect jobs.”
The government clarified liquor and cannabis stores are being treated the same as grocery stores and may remain open.
A full list of affected businesses and services can be found at alberta.ca.
Workplaces that are not otherwise restricted or ordered to close can have more than 15 workers on a work site as long as they follow all public health guidelines, including social distancing measures, the website explains.
Construction sites, for instance, are not impacted by the restriction criteria announced Friday, but must follow the health and safety precautions outlined by Hinshaw and AHS to limit the spread.
Any business found to be breaking these rules will be subject to the enhanced penalties the province announced earlier this week.
Alberta is also closing vehicle access to provincial parks and public lands.
The restrictions, which came into effect March 27 at 1 p.m. through two ministerial orders, do not apply to forestry or oil and gas operations.
Access for First Nations and identified Metis Harvesters is still permitted. Physical distancing and mass gathering restrictions still apply.
“We understand the need to get outdoors, but now is not the time to visit our provincial parks and recreation areas without abiding by common-sense public health and safety measures,” said Jason Nixon, minister of environment and parks.
The Alberta government announced measures to protect renters worried about being evicted because they’re not able to pay their rent during this unprecedented time.
Kenney said the changes are being made “to address the needs of renters but also to ensure landlords don’t end up going out of business.” He called it “a balanced but strong package to help renters who are under pressure right now.”
No one will be evicted on April 1 due to non-payment of rent and civil enforcements of evictions due to nonpayment will be suspended until April 30.
No one will see rent increase while Alberta remains under a state of public health emergency.
No one will pay late fees for missing rent payments over the next three months.
For as long as the public health emergency remains, landlords must accommodate rent payment plans based on their renters’ economic situation.
Kenney had previously rejected the NDP’s calls for him to bring in a temporary moratorium on evictions for those impacted by the health crisis.
“We’ve been listening to the financial concerns of landlords and tenants and these measures protect Albertans and give them time to get back on their feet,” Service Alberta Minister Nate Glubish said Friday.
“This is more practical relief from the immediate financial pressures on Albertans – on top of emergency isolation supports, deferrals of utility bill and student loan payments, an education property tax freeze, and ATB Financial mortgage deferrals.”
These protections are required by new ministerial orders under the Residential Tenancies Act and the Mobile Homes Sites Tenancies Act.
Landlords can still file applications and receive orders for possession if the reason for the eviction is unrelated to rent and/or utility payments (e.g. safety concerns, tenant engaging in criminal activity).
Health care, diagnostic, lab changes
Hinshaw said Alberta has a higher rate of testing than any other province in Canada. There have been between 1,000 and 3,000 tests for COVID-19 done per day.
In order to focus lab resources on COVID-19 swabs, doctors are being asked to stop all non-urgent lab tests. Non-essential routine blood work is also being paused to free up lab-testing capacity.
“We must free up more lab space for our aggressive COVID-19 testing,” Hinshaw explained.
The health system is preparing for more cases and trying to prioritize all its resources, she said.
“Alberta Health Services will be postponing any diagnostic imaging procedures that are considered non-urgent by the ordering physician.”
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Alberta has created a tool where doctors can indicate if they’re able to be redeployed elsewhere in the health system should the need arise.
“We are assessing the situation and responding,” Hinshaw said.
Flatten the curve
“No matter the work site or gathering place, take steps to ensure anyone who is unwell does not attend,” Hinshaw stressed.
However, she said people who get the virus should not be villanized. Hinshaw urged Albertans to disclose any symptoms they’re experiencing to health-care workers and first responders and vowed they will be never be denied treatment.
She addressed the impact that closing all non-essential businesses will have.
“I understand that these measures are fundamentally changing people’s lives.”
However, she said for the sake of public health, they may have to be in place for weeks, even months.
She said currently retail and restaurants can still offer online orders and delivery or curb-side pickup.
“If the situation changes, we may need to take stronger measures in the future.”
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