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Alberta, B.C. declare public health emergencies

Wednesday, March 18, 2020 @ 11:24 AM | By Ian Burns

Both Alberta and British Columbia have declared a public health emergency in face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alberta announced the move March 17. Premier Jason Kenney said the intention is to “limit opportunities for disease transmission by limiting the amount of time Albertans are spending in large crowds and crowded spaces.”

“All Albertans should take immediate action and follow all recommended public health measures,” he said. “Protecting the health of Albertans is, and always will be, our top priority.”

Mass gatherings are now limited to no more than 50 attendees. 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 exempt. 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, racing entertainment centres and bingo halls.

Sit-down restaurants, cafés, coffee shops, food courts and other food-serving facilities, including those with a minors-allowed liquor licence, are limited to 50 per cent capacity to a maximum of 50 people. Takeout, delivery or drive-through service is permitted. Licensed facilities will also be permitted to deliver liquor. Not-for-profit community kitchens, soup kitchens and religious kitchens are currently exempt, but sanitization practices are expected to be in place and support will be in place for this practice.

Until further notice, all Albertans are restricted from attending bars and nightclubs, where minors are prohibited by law. 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 (FCSS) program, which supports municipalities and civil society organizations in providing services to vulnerable Albertans.

In B.C., the public health emergency was declared by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry alongside Health Minister Adrian Dix, also on March 17. It is the second time the provincial health officer has served notice under the Public Health Act to exercise emergency powers; the first declaration was in 2016, in response to the overdose crisis.

Businesses with liquor primary licences, such as bars, pubs and nightclubs, were ordered to close as they are unable to adequately meet the requirements of social distancing, and restaurants and cafés that cannot maintain social distancing of one to two metres between patrons will need to move to takeout and delivery models.

“We also remind British Columbians that public gatherings of more than 50 people — indoors or outdoors — must be cancelled,” Henry and Dix said in a joint statement. “We would like to remind people that tests are available for all those who need them, but not everyone requires a test.”

Upon announcing the public health emergency, Henry and Dix said they were “deeply saddened to announce a further three people who tested positive for COVID-19 have recently passed away.”

“Two were residents of the Lynn Valley Care Centre and one was a man in his 80s from the Fraser Health region,” they said. “We offer our heartfelt condolences to their loved ones and the staff who cared for them.”

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