EDMONTON -- The province of Alberta has declared a state of public health emergency in response to the growing COVID-19 pandemic.

Premier Jason Kenney said the measures would more aggressively combat the spread of the virus, which has infected 74 people in Alberta so far.

That includes a government-ordered closure of venues like casinos, recreation centres, gyms and indoor children's play centres.

According to Alberta's Public Health Act, a state of public health emergency can be made for up to 30 days—but that can increase to 90 days in the event of a 'pandemic influenza.'

Once it is declared, the public health emergency gives the government the following powers:

  • acquire or use any real or personal property;
  • authorize or require any qualified person to render aid of a type the person is qualified to provide;
  • authorize the conscription of persons needed to meet an emergency;
  • authorize the entry into any building or on any land, without warrant, by any person
  • provide for the distribution of essential health and medical supplies and provide, maintain and co-ordinate the delivery of health services.

The public health emergency also means that the province's chief medical health officer can impose or authorize the absence of any ill employees, or those who are caring for a family member ill with COVID-19.

Under the act, employers cannot fire, restrict or otherwise discriminate against employees who must miss work due to the coronavirus.

It also enables compensation for anyone whose personal property is damaged or destroyed due to the exercise of any government powers.

The state of public health emergency is different from a provincial state of emergency, which is governed by Alberta's Emergency Management Act. If a provincial state of emergency is called, it would give Kenney and his government broader powers regarding travel and price-fixing.

On Tuesday, the province said it would take immediate measures including cancelling mass gatherings of over 50 people.

Kenney said the act could be used, for example, to mandate that hotels house people for quarantine if the pandemic "goes the wrong way" in Alberta.

However, he said the government was not looking at enacting such sweeping orders yet.

The measures announced Tuesday also include:

  • Limiting events 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 not included.
  • Limiting the amount of time Albertans 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, 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 license, are limited to 50 per cent capacity to a maximum of 50 people. Take-out, 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 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.