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Alberta tightens public health restrictions, masks now mandatory

Alberta announced tougher COVID-19 public health restrictions after recent targeted measures fell far short of bending the infection curve.

Among those measures will be a mandatory province-wide mask rule and a ban on both indoor and outdoor social gatherings. Both will take effect immediately.

“I will be blunt – so far we are not bending the curve back down,” said Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw in yesterday’s briefing, after 1,735 cases were announced.

“I am concerned – more than ever before – about the spread of the virus.”

On Tuesday, 1,727 cases were identified. There are 654 people in hospital, with 112 in intensive care. More than 19,100 tests were conducted and the positivity rate was 9.4 per cent.

Dr. Hinshaw, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health was joined in her daily briefing by Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, health minister Tyler Shandro and the Minister for Jobs, the Economy and Innovation, Doug Schweitzer.

“Like nearly every developed society in the Northern Hemisphere this fall, we’re experiencing a surge in cases in hospitalizations, and most sadly of deaths as cold weather has caused people to move indoors and the virus to spread more quickly,” Premier Kenney said.

He said that Christmas will be tough. We all need to be around family and friends during the holiday.

“But here’s the hard truth. The biggest single source of transmission is at home gatherings,” he said.

“It’s when people, it’s when we let our guard down. It’s when we relax with people that we are close to. And it’s when transmission most easily happens.”

New, tougher public health measures

It was widely expected that the new measures would be brought in with cases remaining stubbornly high.

On Nov. 24, the province brought in new public health restrictions believing they would help drive case counts down.   On the Tuesday those measures were implemented, the case count was 1,115, though fewer tests were done. The day prior it was 1,549 COVID-19 cases.

In this time, so-called freedom marches have also taken place, attracting hundreds of mostly mask-less participants.

Included in the measures are:

The new measures also come on the heels of a recent poll that showed the governing United Conservative party plummeting in the polls. Support dipped below that of the Alberta NDP.

Cities were going to take action on their own

On Monday, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said if the province didn’t bring in new restrictions, he would cross jurisdictional boundaries and toughen things up in Calgary.

“If we are not (aligned), then my number one duty as mayor is to protect the health of the citizens of Calgary who put their trust in me,” he said Monday.

He said despite the jurisdiction issues, they’ll respond if needed.

“I won’t hesitate to take further action to protect the citizens of Calgary if the province does not,” he said Monday afternoon.

“But I’m giving them the chance to do the right thing.”

Both the mayor and Calgary emergency management officials have been supportive to this point of provincial action. They said they would continue to work with the province on public health matters.

The mayor also said Monday that he’s been vocal about the need to rebuild the contact tracing system decimated by the spike in cases.

“The contact tracing program in Alberta broke a month ago. This is unconscionable,” the mayor said.

He said he was pleased to hear that the province was working hard to rebuild that effort.

The mayor also indicated the city would be looking at changing fines for its own mask bylaw. He said they were looking at plans to align it with provincial fines. Right now the city bylaw fine is $50. The provincial fine is $1,000 and a $200 victim fee.

The city said it supported the new measures.

“I recognize that additional restrictions, especially at this time of year, carry a significant economic, mental, and social burden for Calgarians,” said Mayor Nenshi.

“But it is critical that we all do everything we can to keep our families, neighbours, and communities safe. The safer we can keep each other, and the more we can control this virus, the better able we’ll be to return to normal as vaccines become available.”

Impact on Calgary businesses

Mike de Jonge, owner of local bar Marda Loop Brewing Co. said that while he understands the decision, he’s become “numb” to the rules and restrictions.

“I think, we could be sour, I think we could be upset, I think we’ve got the right to, kind of shake our fist and say show us the proof of where these numbers are coming from,” said de Jonge.

“But on the other hand, I’m almost becoming numb to the whole to the whole situation. It’s just changing every week.”

He believes the government understands what closing the malls and shops would do to the economy, especially during the holiday season. So, closing bars, restaurants, and cafes makes more sense.

“I know this sounds a little funny, but I see that as almost being a little bit of more of an essential service right now than alcohol in restaurants,” said de Jonge.

“Just because the timing of it.”

The plan is straightforward for Marda Loop Brewing. They will go back to doing what they did in March. They relied on the community, the sale of alcohol to liquor stores, as well as take-out and delivery.

He’s optimistic that his bar will survive, and that the end is in sight.

“For people who are manufacturing alcohol like us, like distilleries and breweries and cideries is we still get to create some kind of income from the sale at liquor stores,” said de Jonge.

“That’s what’s giving me a little bit of confidence to know that we’re going to make it through this.”

  • with reporting from Omar Sherif