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Calgary to request COVID enforcement powers as new restrictions take hold

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi is urging Calgarians to adhere to the city’s two-week window of restrictions, so the COVID-19 curve can be flattened.

The mayor, along with Calgary Emergency Management Agency Chief Tom Sampson, discussed Calgary’s role in the new COVID-19 public health restrictions laid down by the province Thursday.

Among the measures included are changes to team sports and group fitness activities, hours of liquor service for bars, pubs, restaurants and lounges and a request for faith groups to limit capacity to 1/3 for services.

These new public health restrictions come on the heels of another 860 additional COVID-19 cases in Alberta.  Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said we have a two-week window to improve things before more stringent measures come down.

“I wish I could be more eloquent, or sugarcoat this, or state it in a polite way – things are unbelievably bad,” said Mayor Nenshi.

“They’re much worse than they’ve been at any point in the pandemic.”

Both he and Chief Sampson reiterated that Calgarians need to do the right thing – wash hands, cover face, physical distance. Mayor Nenshi said that even includes getting a flu shot this year.

“It also means right now, it’s time to collapse your bubble,” he said.

Chief Sampson encouraged people to get out in the cooler weather.

“Take your social gatherings outdoors. Go out for walks, cross country ski. Have a hot chocolate in the park,” he said.

“Now is not the time to be having people over.”

COVID vs the economy

Mayor Nenshi said that citizens must get over the debate of it being a choice between COVID-19 and the economy.  He said it makes no sense.

“If we get into full outbreak mode, if we get into Italy in February, or New York in March, the economy is gone,” he said.

“You can’t have an economy without health. And so ultimately, what we really need to do is do the right things now in order to save the economy.”

With Calgary businesses hurting, Chief Sampson once again encouraged people to think about making their purchases to support local small business.

Both Mayor Nenshi and Chief Sampson said not to mark the Nov. 27 date in your calendar. There’s a chance these measures could be extended.

He said Calgarians can support local gyms and fitness centres by enrolling in virtual fitness classes. They can go order from local restaurants, get curbside pickup or delivery.

“Even in tough times our local business are supporting each other and our community with acts of kindness,” Chief Sampson said.  He asked that if people see these things, point them out on social media using the hashtag #supportlocalYYC.

Enforcement of new public health restrictions

When the city let the state of local emergency lapse in June, so did the city’s ability to enforce some of the public health restrictions.

Some have postulated that we’re at the peak of personal responsibility. It’s time for cities and the province to step up measures – and enforcement.  

But the mayor reiterated that we won’t be able to enforce our way out of COVID-19.

To that end, Mayor Nenshi said the city itself had “essentially zero enforcement power.”

Under the public health terms, the city must request this, the mayor said.

“I believe we should. I’ve got women and men out there with uniforms and ticket books, who currently cannot write tickets,” he said.

“And I think that if there are people who are egregiously, flagrantly putting others at risk, they ought to get a ticket. They ought to see the consequences of the work they do.”

Flagrant violations of the rules can be dealt with by Calgary police, the mayor said. Chief Sampson added that the city’s business and licensing team could also get involved.

Chief Sampson said they drafted a letter Thursday asking for the enforcement powers to be returned.

“I’m optimistic that our provincial government will provide that capacity as we had previously,” Chief Sampson said.

Still, like Nenshi, Sampson said enforcement shouldn’t be necessary.

“This is a time where, if you’ve not been following along with the sort of the game plan with COVID, this is your turn to do it now,” Sampson said.