Banff, Fort McMurray await details before deciding on COVID-19 curfews

Click to play video: 'Alberta premier announces targeted COVID-19 restrictions in ‘hot spots’'
Alberta premier announces targeted COVID-19 restrictions in ‘hot spots’
WATCH ABOVE: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced on Thursday that the province was adding new, targeted COVID-19 restrictions into place as cases continue to rise. – Apr 29, 2021

The mayor of Alberta’s Rocky Mountain resort town of Banff is looking for more details on implementing a possible COVID-19 curfew.

But Karen Sorensen questions whether such a drastic measure would even make a difference.

“Our late-night or even earlier-in-the-night activity is minimal in Banff at this point,” Sorensen said Friday.

“Restaurants and bars aren’t open and there just aren’t a lot of people out and about.”

Sorensen noted the province has promised other help, with more vaccines arriving next week along with expanded ages of eligibility.

Banff is one of a handful of regions with COVID-19 case rates so high they could apply to the province for a curfew.

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The curfew was part of a suite of measures introduced by Premier Jason Kenney late Thursday to reduce high infection rates now squeezing the health system.

Curfews would be allowed where the case rate is above one in 100. Banff is just over that threshold.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes the city of Fort McMurray, has a rate of 1.5 — Alberta’s highest.

In a statement Friday, Wood Buffalo said: “We are in the process of reviewing the newly announced restrictions, evaluating options, and awaiting further details from the government of Alberta.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta to use emergency alert system to notify citizens of COVID-19 measures'
Alberta to use emergency alert system to notify citizens of COVID-19 measures

The County of Barrhead, northwest of Edmonton, with a case rate of 1.02, is not contemplating a curfew.

Reeve Douglas Drozd said it’s a busy time of year with farmers seeding their fields and hauling cattle out to pasture, and not the time to “get in the way.”

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Alberta has the highest active COVID-19 case rate in Canada. It has seen well over 1,000 new cases a day for weeks and on Thursday surpassed 2,000 for the first time.

Total active cases are above 21,000 and close to the record set during the last wave in December.

There are 632 people in hospital with the illness, including 151 in intensive care.

Hospitals are cancelling non-urgent surgeries, ramping up capacity for an expected influx of patients, and doctors are being briefed on a triage protocol should the system be so overwhelmed, physicians must make potential life-and-death decisions.

Calgary emergency room doctor Joe Vipond said the numbers reflect government policy failure.

“We’ve avoided making the hard decisions of putting in strong restrictions and kicking the can down the road and this is what you get — you get exponential growth.”

Kenney as late as Monday rejected implementing new restrictions, saying the existing ones would be fine if people followed them, adding that any new rules would likely be ignored by a COVID-fatigued populace.

But on Thursday, Kenney said there would be new rules for hot spots, saying health restrictions are critical to bending the curve.

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The rules apply to areas seeing more than 3.5 cases for every 1,000 residents along with having at least 250 active cases. Those regions include Edmonton, Calgary, Grande Prairie, Red Deer, Fort McMurray and Lethbridge.

For at least the next two weeks, all students in grades 7-12 will study remotely.

All indoor fitness activities are cancelled and indoor recreation facilities must close.

The Opposition NDP said moving classes home on such short notice is another example of a government writing pandemic policy on the fly, with parents and caregivers paying the price.

“Thousands of parents and students were left blindsided by the premier,” said education critic Sarah Hoffman.

Shannon Phillips, the NDP member for Lethbridge-West, said Kenney’s stance on restrictions reflects a leader trying to mollify anti-lockdown critics in his base and in his United Conservative caucus at the expense of protecting Albertans’ health.

“That is, I think the most stunning abrogation of the public interest from Mr. Kenney and shows the weakest of leadership,” said Phillips.

Kenney faces severe criticism from almost half his backbench legislature members for the existing restrictions, which include no indoor social gatherings and sharp curtailment at stores and worship services.

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Campaign to remove Jason Kenney as premier goes online

In early April, 18 of them publicly challenged the rules as an unnecessary infringement on personal freedoms.

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One of the dissidents, Cypress-Medicine Hat member Drew Barnes, issued a public letter Friday objecting to the new rules, adding the idea of a curfew is unnecessary and alarming.

Barnes, in an interview, said the province has failed to provide any information to justify to him or to his constituents why the rules need to be applied to low-case areas.

“My constituents have been calling for more transparency,” said Barnes.

Phillips said Barnes is endangering public health and called for him to be fired from the UCP caucus. Barnes said he has the confidence of those who elected him.

Kenney has refused to sanction the dissidents, saying they don’t speak for the government and that he respects free speech.

Click to play video: 'Alberta restaurants ‘legitimately nervous’ about policing public health orders'
Alberta restaurants ‘legitimately nervous’ about policing public health orders

Kenney also said Thursday there would be renewed efforts for front-line restaurant staff to check and ensure those dining on patios are all from the same household, as per health rules.

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Ernie Tsu, owner of Trolley 5 Restaurant and Brewery in Calgary and a founding member of the Alberta Hospitality Association, said they want more details to make sure wait staff aren’t overburdened.

“It is tough,” said Tsu. “It’s up to us as owners and managers to ensure that we’re not putting them in harm’s way or into a situation that they’re having to ask or dig for people’s IDs.”

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