Alberta has declared a state of public emergency in response to the COVID-19 virus, Premier Jason Kenney announced Tuesday.
The declaration means authorities can more effectively manage the pandemic response, the premier said.
“As you know, we’ve seen a significant increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in Alberta, so we see Alberta seems to be following the same general trend line as many other jusridictions, which means we have to take more aggressive measures to contain the spread of the virus.
“Also we came to the conclusion today that it was probably inevitable given the direction of the disease that we would end up invoking a public health emergency in any event, so we concluded that it was prudent to do so now.”
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, said 23 new cases were confirmed in Alberta on Tuesday, bringing the total to 97 in the province.
A third case was announced in the central zone Tuesday. As of Monday afternoon, there were two cases in the central zone.
The highest number of cases is in the Calgary zone at 70, 20 cases in the Edmonton zone, three in the south zone and one in the north zone.
The exact location of the cases is unknown.
There are three assessment centres operating in the Edmonton zone, another in Calgary and two in the central zone. The testing strategy is different in the north and south zones.
The new measures from the province mean any gathering of more than 50 people should be cancelled. This includes worship gatherings and family events such as weddings.
Grocery stores, shopping centres, health-care facilities, airports, the legislature and other essential services are not included.
To limit the amount of time people are spending in large crowds and crowded spaces, all Albertans are prohibited from attending public recreational facilities and private entertainment facilities, including gyms, swimming pools, arenas, science centres, museums, art galleries, community centres, children’s play centres, casinos and bingo halls until further notice.
All Albertans are also restricted from attending bars and nightclubs, where minors are prohibited by law.
At this time, not-for-profit community kitchens, soup kitchens and religious kitchens are exempt, but sanitization practices are expected to be in place and support will be in place for this practice.
Sit-down restaurants are allowed to stay open at this time, but are capped at 50 per cent capacity, or at 50 people – whichever is lower.
Hinshaw explained the only means we have to prevent the virus from spreading is to limit contact between people.
She explained the province is fighting a war on two fronts: travel-related cases, which she said will continue to go up as Canadians continue to come back home, and community transmitted cases.
“We need to raise our efforts to prevent community transmission,” said Hinshaw.
Hinshaw said AHS is postponing all scheduled and elective surgeries. Urgent and emergency surgery, oncology and scheduled Caesarean sections will go ahead.
“The health-care system is preparing for any increase in the number of cases that need hospital care,” Hinshaw said.
Alberta’s Provincial Operations Centre was elevated from Level 3 to Level 4, the highest level, Tuesday.
Alberta Health Services advises they have adequate supplies such as personal protective equipment to deal with COVID-19, said Kenney.
“We’re confident we have enough equipment. The letter to the prime minister was about it’s better to be safe than sorry, and if we can continue to stockpile equipment of that nature, it’ll add to our confidence level.”
Hinshaw explained based on past pandemics, coronavirus cases may ease off in the summer in the province, “but we need to be prepared again in fall.”
“In the 2009 pandemic, we did have a surge of cases in spring, and over the summer, we saw transmission go to a pretty low level.
“And in fall, we had what was called the second wave, where we had an increase in the number of cases again – higher than the first wave in spring.”
Municipalities, charitable and non-profit organizations providing social services support will immediately see $60 million to support their COVID-19 response. The funding will be provided to adult homeless shelters, women’s emergency shelters and the Family and Community Support Services program, which supports municipalities and civil society organizations in providing services to vulnerable Albertans.
“We’ll do whatever it takes to slow the spread of the virus,” said Kenney.