Alberta cities ramping up measures to fight spread of COVID-19

CALGARY — Two Alberta cities have called local states of emergency to help fight the spread of COVID-19.

Calgary and Red Deer are using the declaration, which gives the cities access to additional resources and special powers under the Emergency Management Act.

Red Deer Mayor Tara Veer brought in the measure early Monday.

“The City of Red Deer takes emergency management very seriously,” she told rdnewsNOW. “Our top priority is the health, safety and well-being of all our citizens as we respond to the issue and work to maintain essential services to our community.”

In Calgary, which declared its state of emergency late Sunday, downtown streets were mostly empty Monday and traffic was light as many residents heeded public warnings and worked from home.

Calgary Mayor Naheed ordered all city-owned and operated fitness facilities and pools, as well as public libraries, to close.

Also on Sunday, the Alberta government suspended all kindergarten to Grade 12 classes and in-person post-secondary lectures.

“This is very, very serious. We will get more cases. We will get more community transmission,” Nenshi said at the news conference.

“What we need to do is not panic, not stockpile, but be prepared and be thoughtful about what we’re doing moving forward.”

The move gives Calgary the power to ensure that businesses and restaurants reduce by half their normal capacity, to a maximum of 250.

“Maybe people will say months from now, ‘Wow, we overreacted,’ but if we have the ability to say we overreacted it means we did the right thing,” Nenshi said.

“It means that we were able to keep this pandemic down in the city, to flatten the curve to spread out the risk.”

The order doesn’t include grocery stores, airports, shopping centres, pharmacies and casinos.

The head of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency said residents shouldn’t worry about basic services.

“Your water will keep running and your power will stay on. Transit will keep operating and if you have an emergency, you can still call 911 for help from fire, police and ambulance,” said agency director Tom Sampson.

“There is no need to panic or worry that you won’t receive essential city services.”

Sampson said it was important to take strong measures before things passed the point of no return.

“While it can seem extreme to have places we know and love closed down, this is in line with the actions (of) other regions who have had success containing COVID-19.”

Officials in Edmonton said Monday they were not yet declaring a state of local emergency.

“I’ve been in close contact with the mayor of Calgary to understand, close virtual contact — I should be clear — with the mayor of Calgary to understand their motivations and they are really unique to their local circumstances,” said Mayor Don Iveson.

He said the measure entrusts municipal officials with extraordinary powers.

“You only want to do that when it’s absolutely necessary,” said Iveson. “In our estimation, for Edmonton, we’re not there yet.

“Some of those powers include the ability to seize assets, for example, and to implement price controls and to issue firm orders to limit gatherings.”

Iveson said the city will defer to Alberta’s medical officer of health for those orders.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2020

— With files from rdnewsNOW and Colette Derworiz in Edmonton

Bill Graveland, The Canadian Press

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