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Coronavirus: Calgary, Brooks to take slower approach as Alberta implements Phase 1 of relaunch

WATCH ABOVE: Some videos of Premier Jason Kenney and Dr. Deena Hinshaw speaking at a news conference in Edmonton on Wednesday.

Phase 1 of Alberta’s plan to relaunch the economy amid the COVID-19 pandemic is going ahead on Thursday, but it will take a regional approach.

On Wednesday afternoon, Premier Jason Kenney announced that on the advice of Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, Calgary and Brooks will see their relaunch phased in at a slower pace than the rest of Alberta.

Kenney cited the fact that 75 per cent of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the province are in those two cities.

READ MORE: Residents line up for drive-thru COVID-19 testing in Brooks

“I know that many folks in Calgary and Brooks will be disappointed,” he said. “But we didn’t take this decision lightly.

“We are prudently giving our public health experts more time to monitor trends in those communities.”

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Kenney added that he wishes his government “could have given people weeks of notice” for the exact dates of Stage 1 of the relaunch plan but that it wasn’t possible. He added that since his government first unveiled its relaunch plans, it “made it very clear” that no relaunch dates were set in stone.

“[But] I very much regret if any business has gone to expense,” Kenney said.

The premier said he believes the “growth curve [of COVID-19 cases] has successfully been flattened in most of Alberta” and that “the most encouraging news is the surging number of recoveries.”

“Recovered cases now outnumber active cases by about four times,” he said. “All of these numbers add up to a very successful stand against COVID-19 so far in Alberta.”

Kenney said that while case numbers have been more concerning in Calgary and Brooks, he believes “the risk is low for Albertans wherever they live.”

He added that he is aware that some Albertans want a much more rapid reopening while others would like to see a far lengthier lockdown, but he believes the decision to move forward with the relaunch “comes down to relying, at the end of the day, on common sense.”

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Kenney said he wants to remind Albertans to be diligent about helping the province avoid a so-called second wave of infections and that it is imperative people continue to follow public health orders and recommendations.

He also thanked Albertans for their role in helping to curb the spread of the coronavirus, a message echoed by Hinshaw.

“There have been sacrifices… I know how difficult it has been,” she said.

“Albertans have responded to this unprecedented challenge with compassion and grace.”

Hinshaw added that she feels “confident it is the right time to move into Stage 1.”

She also acknowledged the disappointment she imagines many Calgarians and residents of Brooks must feel.

“I know this must frustrating for some residents and businesses… [but] your safety is our top priority.”

READ MORE: Alberta releases business guides for COVID-19 reopening plan

Phase 1 of the relaunch plan will allow retail businesses, such as clothing, furniture and bookstores, to reopen gradually. Cafes and restaurants with no bar service will also be allowed to run at half capacity, while hair salons, barber shops and daycares are also included in Phase 1 for all locations in Alberta, apart from Calgary and Brooks.

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Phase 1 will be rolled out more gradually in Brooks and Calgary: on May 14, May 25 and June 1. For more information on what can open when in Calgary and Brooks, and in other parts of Alberta, click here.

Hinshaw said that people in Calgary and Brooks should wait for services and businesses that will now see a delayed reopening rather than visiting other jurisdictions where those services can reopen.

“It will take all our efforts [to keep cases from surging],” she said.

“We continue to recommend against non-essential travel,” Kenney noted.

Also acknowledging the frustration that some in Calgary and Brooks may feel as a result of Wednesday’s relaunch announcement, Kenney said “the worst thing we could do would be to move suddenly on all those fronts at the same time,” see a new surge in cases, and then need to return to restrictions that were in place before Stage 1 of the relaunch strategy.

Economic relaunch begins Thursday but will be slower in Calgary
Economic relaunch begins Thursday but will be slower in Calgary

The premier added that he too is eager to see the economy get moving again and for life to return at least somewhat to normal, but that he knows there are consequences for not proceeding cautiously.

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“My impatience must be governed by the data and health advice,” Kenney said. ‘Whenever I’m thinking of allowing my impatience to get the better of me, I just remember what the consequence would be [of getting] significant second waves.”

Hinshaw said the government’s decision to move forward with a regional relaunch approach on Thursday has her full support.

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Critics speak out about how relaunch is being rolled out

P. J. L’Heureux, a Calgary restaurant and club owner who also founded Craft Beer Market, said Wednesday’s announcement that Alberta’s largest city will see a slower relaunch was “just another blow.”

“It’s literally just as bad as closing, if not worse, because when we closed originally, we knew it was coming,” he told Global News.

“This one was no signs or notice at all.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Alberta restaurants expect staggered start when reopening begins

NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley issued a statement about the first phase of the relaunch and how it will be implemented more slowly in Calgary and Brooks.

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“I feel for the Calgarians who were given a reopening date prematurely by Jason Kenney,” the statement reads. “There are going to a lot of business owners who were expecting to reopen. There are a lot of restaurants that stocked up on food and may now have to watch it spoil.

“Our NDP caucus supports reopening our economy but we have to be smarter. We shouldn’t be working backwards from an arbitrary date and pressuring businesses to figure it out on their own, incurring additional costs in the process.”

“We need a successful relaunch that makes everyone feel confident and safe, not a scrambled relaunch where no one knows whether they are open or closed.”

Calgary businesses responds to delayed reopening
Calgary businesses responds to delayed reopening
When asked why High River’s relaunch is not being delayed, given the massive coronavirus outbreak at the Cargill meat plant, Hinshaw said the “data didn’t indicate a need to have any kind of different opening [there].”
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“There have been, a couple of weeks ago, a higher number of active cases in that community, but most of those cases have now been resolved,” she said.

Before Kenney’s news conference on Wednesday, the Alberta Federation of Labour said leaders of unions affiliated with its organization voted to send a letter to the premier urging him to delay the phased reopening of the province’s economy “by at least one month.”

The AFL said more action needs to be taken to “guarantee the safety of workers and patrons in Alberta workplaces.”

“So far, Alberta’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a story of success in the community, but a failure in a growing number of workplaces,” AFL president Gil McGowan said in a news release. “The government’s failure to be more proscriptive with employers and more aggressive with enforcement has led to unnecessary outbreaks and, sadly, a number of preventable deaths.

“Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem that the government has learned from these mistakes. Their guidance for employers on the subject of reopening the economy is weak, vague and often unclear.”

Meeting held on Tuesday to discuss whether to keep May 14 relaunch date

An emergency committee with the provincial cabinet met Tuesday night to officially decide whether reopening could take place as proposed Thursday.

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On Tuesday afternoon, Hinshaw said officials were looking at a few key elements when considering Phase 1 of the relaunch strategy.

READ MORE: COVID-19 discussions in Alberta ongoing to decide if Thursday relaunch can proceed: Hinshaw

One piece to consider was whether there are any serious or concerning outbreaks. The hospitalization rate in Alberta also needs to be stable and intensive care units need to have more than 50 per cent of their beds empty for relaunch plans to move forward, Hinshaw explained.

“We need to make sure we have the most up-to-date information,” Hinshaw said on Tuesday. “Once we reopen, we want to stay open.”

On Monday, the province released further industry-specific guidelines for businesses hoping to reopen in the coming days and weeks. Provincial officials have stressed that the May 14 timeline for businesses to reopen is not mandatory; businesses owners can choose to stay closed and reopen at a later date.

On Wednesday, the Alberta government said it has released a new guide  that provides building operators and managers with information about how to flush stagnant water out of pipes and water systems in buildings that have sat vacant or underutilized during the pandemic.

“Building operators should do this work while they continue to be partially closed and as they prepare to reopen their doors to employees, businesses and the public,” the government said in a news release.

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On Thursday, the Alberta Parks online campground reservation system will open for bookings at select campgrounds starting June 1, with some restrictions in place.

Kenney talks next steps in Alberta’s COVID-19 response

Kenney said his government and public health officials will closely evaluate the pandemic situation in the province ahead of each phase of its relaunch and continue to monitor for COVID-19 “hot spots” and outbreaks.

The premier added that details on his public mask distribution program would be coming soon and that he expects to roll out the program at the end of the month.

READ MORE: Public mask program to start in Alberta at the end of the month: Kenney

He said because of global supply issues regarding masks, there would be “a limited number of masks for people for the foreseeable future… that can help them if they’re going out on their weekly grocery shopping visit.”

Latest COVID-19 numbers in Alberta

As of Wednesday afternoon, Hinshaw said there are 1,211 active confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Alberta and that 5,076 cases have now seen people recover.

Over the past 24 hours, Hinshaw said 4,072 novel coronavirus tests have been conducted, and 62 people have tested positive in the province.

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Of the confirmed cases, the Calgary zone has 990 active cases and 3,301 recoveries, the South zone has 117 active cases and 1,045 recoveries, the Edmonton zone has 61 active cases and 439 recoveries, the North zone has 21 active cases and 191 recoveries, the Central zone has 14 active cases and 82 recoveries and there are eight active cases and 18 recoveries where the zone has yet to be determined.

Alberta COVID-19 update for May 13
Alberta COVID-19 update for May 13

On Wednesday afternoon, Hinshaw also confirmed her team had identified a new outbreak at Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.’s Horizon work camp in northern Alberta.

She said five cases had been confirmed there but she is “confident the spread can be contained on this site as all measures are being taken to do this.”

Kenney also praised Alberta oil companies for their preparedness and handling of the COVID-19 pandemic since it arrived in the province two months ago.

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READ MORE: 5 COVID-19 cases confirmed at CNRL Horizon work camp in Fort McMurray

In terms of other outbreaks, Alberta Health said Wednesday that there are still 23 active COVID-19 cases among workers at the Cargill meat plant in High River and that 924 workers there have now recovered from the illness.

At the JBS Foods meat plant in Brooks, there are currently 15 active cases among workers and 620 have now recovered.

At the Harmony Beef plant near Calgary, there are now 10 active cases among workers and 30 workers have recovered from the illness.

Alberta Health added there are currently 104 active cases and 562 recovered cases at continuing care facilities across the province. Eighty-six residents of those facilities have died.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Alberta had 120 fatalities attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic. Alberta Health said two of those deaths were confirmed over the past 24 hours. Eighty-four of those deaths have been in the Calgary zone, 15 in the North zone, 12 in the Edmonton zone, eiht in the South zone and one in the Central zone.

As of Wednesday evening, Alberta had tested 181,624 people for the novel coronavirus and 165,888 people had signed up for the province’s voluntary contact-tracing app ABTraceTogether.

Watch below: Wednesday’s full news conference.

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