'The situation is very serious': Alberta to declare a state of public health emergency over COVID-19
EDMONTON -- Alberta Premier Jason Kenney declared a public state of health emergency on Tuesday in an effort to combat the growing spread of COVID-19.
"The situation is very serious," said Kenney. "Decisive action is needed and we are taking that action."
"We have to take more aggressive measures to contain the virus, more aggressive social distancing measures."
Kenney also announced a number of new measures on social distancing as recommended by provincial health authorities, including a ban on any organized gatherings of more than 50 people.
Albertans are now prohibited from visiting a number of venues including: public recreation centres, casinos, bingo halls, bars, nightclubs, fitness centres, arenas, museums, and indoor children's play centres.
Sit-down restaurants, pubs, delis and coffee shops are now limited to a maximum of 50 people or 50 per cent of their maximum capacity, whichever is lower.
"Drive-thru, take-out and delivery will still be permitted," Kenney said adding the province has changed regulations allowing restaurants to engage in off-sales of liquor.
Conferences, weddings and funerals are not exempt from the declaration and should be cancelled, said Kenney.
He said the new restrictions go into effect immediately.
"I recognize these measures will have a profound impact on the lives of Albertans. But they are frankly necessary in the face of this growing pandemic."
Venues deemed to be essential services including grocery stores, airports, homeless shelters, soup kitchens and the Alberta legislature building will remain open.
The government also announced $60 million in funding to be sent to social agencies and another $30 million devoted to supporting seniors.
Kenney announced more government spending measures to deal with the economic implications of the pandemic will be announced tomorrow.
"This is a serious moment in our history," said Kenney. "This province is resilient and we are ready for the test."
Kenney said the availability of trained personnel remains a concern for health authorities as the pandemic continues.
He said the province may bring back recently retired medical professionals or cancel vacation for existing staff to boost the province's health care capacity.
WHAT DOES A PUBLIC HEALTH EMERGENCY MEAN?
The declaration comes under the province's Public Health Act which typically permits a 30-day period for the state of emergency, which can be extended to 90 days.
Kenney said the declaration is limited to health care powers, where section 52 of the act allows a 60-day state of emergency to "prompt co-ordination of action or special regulation of persons or property is required in order to protect the public health."
The Emergency Management Act also allows the government to take central control of a crisis by enacting a number of emergency powers over a 28-day period, including:
- Putting into operation an emergency plan or program.
- Authorize or require local authorities to put into effect their own emergency plans.
- Acquire or use any property necessary to prevent or alleviate the effects of the emergency.
- Control or prohibit travel to or from any area of Alberta.
- Procure or fix prices for food, clothing, fuel, equipment, or other essential supplies.
- Order the evacuation of persons and property from any area affected by a disaster.
Kenney said his government is not enacting all aspects of the act's powers, instead using the declaration to aid health care administration. He said the other powers could be used in the future if needed.
The legislation permits for a 90-day period if the order is "in respect of a pandemic influenza."
In 2016, the province declared a provincial state of emergency in response to the Fort McMurray fires. The state of emergency came into effect on May 4, 2016 and lasted for 58 days, until July 1, 2016.
Earlier Tuesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency in his province, including a ban on public events of over 50 people including parades, events and services within places of worship until March 31.
A prior version of this story said the province had called a state of provincial emergency. It has since been updated to clarify Alberta has declared a public health emergency.