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Edmonton COVID-19 committee recommends circuit-breaker lockdown amid rising cases, hospitalizations

Click to play video: 'Calgary, Edmonton considering more COVID-19 restrictions' Calgary, Edmonton considering more COVID-19 restrictions
WATCH: Calgary, Edmonton considering more COVID-19 restrictions – Dec 7, 2020

Update: Hours after this story was published, the province announced sweeping new measures aimed at bending the COVID-19 curve. Mayor Don Iveson said the City of Edmonton will pause the development of its pandemic restrictions bylaw as the Alberta government’s orders “remain the fairest and most effective tools to tackle COVID-19.”

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson called a special city council meeting Tuesday morning, where councillors and health officials discussed potential measures the city could take to slow the spread of COVID-19, amid rising growth in the city and across the province.

Interim city manager Adam Laughlin presented what he called “grim COVID-19 data for the Edmonton region,” that is “alarming and unacceptable.”

“The spread of the virus has not let up,” Laughlin said. “The data trends are alarming.”

Alberta recorded 1,735 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, pushing the province’s active case count over 20,000 to 20,067. Of those, 9,190 active cases are in the Edmonton zone. The city of Edmonton proper has an active case rate of 727.8 per 100,000 population.

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Despite additional restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the virus that went into place nearly two weeks ago in Alberta, the province’s chief medical officer of health said Monday “they were not sufficient to bend the curve enough.”

Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Monday she and her team were preparing a package of recommendations to bring forward to cabinet for consideration on new restrictions.

Click to play video: 'Alberta’s top doctor doesn’t believe current COVID-19 restrictions are sufficient to bend the curve downwards' Alberta’s top doctor doesn’t believe current COVID-19 restrictions are sufficient to bend the curve downwards
Alberta’s top doctor doesn’t believe current COVID-19 restrictions are sufficient to bend the curve downwards – Dec 7, 2020

Premier Jason Kenney is expected to speak alongside Dr. Deena Hinshaw and other provincial officials Tuesday afternoon.

Iveson said he called the special council meeting in order to discuss what the city might be able to do with bylaws or under the Municipal Government Act, should the province not move to bring in stronger restrictions.

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Laughlin said administration is not recommending a local state of emergency at this time. However, he said they are currently working on writing a “pandemic restrictions bylaw,” which would recommend a closure of bars, pubs and restaurants to in-person dining. Takeout and curbside pickup could continue, Laughlin said.

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The bylaw would recommend closing casinos and indoor entertainment, recreation, sport and fitness facilities, which would include city recreation centres. The bylaw would also recommend further capacity limits to places of worship.

“We believe that if steps aren’t taken, we need to take these steps,” Laughlin said.

Read more: ‘We can’t wait that long’: Edmonton, Calgary considering more COVID-19 restrictions

The bylaw could be passed as early as Thursday, if needed.

Iveson said he remains hopeful the province will bring in additional measures, but council will meet again on Thursday afternoon to discuss the city’s proposed pandemic restrictions bylaw.

A motion was passed unanimously Tuesday that states the mayor will now write to fellow municipal leaders in the Edmonton Metro Region to inform them of Edmonton’s proposed bylaw and request for a regional approach as much as possible.

Iveson will also work with the City of Calgary to write to the provincial government, requesting authority to address rising COVID-cases in the two cities, while enabling businesses to be entitled to the federal supports that are available.

“The situation is dire and urgent measures are needed. The city stands ready to act this week if needed,” the mayor said.

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COVID-19 pandemic committee calls for circuit-breaker lockdown

Members of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association’s Strategic COVID-19 Pandemic Committee presented at the council meeting.

The group, which formed last month, represents about 1,700 physicians and medical professionals. Members of the committee monitor public health, the healthcare system and the government response in Alberta, research and recommend medical guidance, as well as provide public information and medical advice to Albertans.

Dr. Noel Gibney, co-chair of the committee, spoke about the concerning trends in Alberta, which he said have led to “exponential” spread of COVID-19 in recent weeks.

“The latest measures to try to bring things under control are clearly not working,” Gibney said.

Dr. James Talbot, a former Alberta chief medical officer of health and co-chair of the committee, said delays in effective measures can lead to a worse, longer peak of infection.

Talbot said a backlog of contract tracing has made it difficult to properly source where infection is happening. Because of this, the committee said a circuit-breaker lockdown approach would be more effective in slowing the spread of COVID-19 than targeted measures.

“The situation in Edmonton is deteriorating rapidly,” Talbot said.

“We’re recommending a circuit breaker to bend down the curve,” Talbot said on behalf of the committee. “If the circuit breaker works, we can take the pressure off the healthcare system and we can reestablish things like contact tracing.”

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“We’ve had half measures that are tiring and ineffective,” Gibney said.

Read more: What is a coronavirus ‘circuit-breaker?’ A pivot in strategy with pros and cons

This would not only bring down the case count but also allow contact tracers to catch up and begin aggressive contact tracing again, the committee explained.

The committee stressed that it’s not recommending a “shelter-in-place,” lockdown.

In order to bend the curve, the committee said Alberta must bring its R value below 0.8 and bring down new rates of infection to 300 cases per day or less. To do that, the committee suggested locking down venues like casinos, bars, in-restaurant dining, gyms, sports centres and faith assemblies.

Read more: Experts levy criticism at province over failure to disclose Alberta’s R value

The committee also encouraged strict enforcement on masks province-wide, as well as on the number of people in stores, indoor spaces and shopping malls. Maximizing work-from-home opportunities is another measure recommended by the committee.

The committee acknowledged restriction fatigue is high among the general public, but also touched on promising news on the coronavirus vaccine, which could begin to be rolled out in Canada as early as next week, pending approval.

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“We have sacrificed so much. You lost your job, you lost your business… You lost your grandparents,” Talbot said.

“This won’t last forever. There is hope on the horizon. People will do things if they have hope.”

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