Calgarians urged to work at home, forgo St. Patrick's Day as council passes COVID-19 plan

Council has given its approval to a plan drawn up by administrators that lays out the city's top four priorities as it responds to the COVID-19 pandemic.

'Either we're going to separate ourselves or we're just going to go down a bad road,' says city manager

Calgary city council voted in favour of a plan Monday presented by city administrators and CEMA for responding to the COVID-19 emergency. (Dave Gilson/CBC)

Calgary's mayor is urging all businesses to allow their employees to work from home if at all possible.

City council and emergency officials stopped short of mandating the call, but said Monday that significant changes are needed to stop the spread of COVID-19.

"No. 1, straight up, we are encouraging every business to enable full telework for everyone who can work remotely," Mayor Naheed Nenshi said at the meeting.

Nenshi also urged Calgarians to forgo festivities Tuesday, saying, "St. Patrick's Day is cancelled."

The mayor called on restaurant and events businesses to cancel all St. Patrick's Day events, and said an order would be considered to force compliance if necessary.

Tom Sampson, director of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA), called on Calgarians to hold their colleagues and friends to account. Anyone who has recently travelled from outside of Canada, and anyone with symptoms, must stay home in self-isolation, he noted.

"We have to be extremely strong about this," Sampson said. "Either we're going to separate ourselves or we're just going to go down a bad road."

Council OK's plan to 'flatten the curve'

Council approved to a plan drawn up by administrators Monday that lays out the city's top four priorities as it responds to the pandemic. It came a day after City of Calgary officials declared a state of local emergency in response to the growing coronavirus pandemic — an extremely rare move that was last done during catastrophic flooding in the summer of 2013.

The approved plan includes sweeping efforts aimed at curbing the spread of coronavirus in Calgary.

City manager David Duckworth recommended to council, and councillors agreed, that administration's next moves will be guided by four key objectives:

  1. Working with federal and provincial officials to "flatten the curve" of the pandemic's spread in the community so that there isn't a large spike of people suddenly getting infected, which could overwhelm the health-care system.
  2. Supporting city employees during the emergency. Measures taken already include increased physical distance between workers, where possible, renewed emphasis on best hygiene practices, and encouraging city workers to work from home if they are able. On Monday, there were 2,300 city employees working at home, Duckworth noted.
  3. Maintaining appropriate city services. 
  4. Working on measures aimed at shoring up the economic resilience of Calgary in the face of the global crisis. 

City-operated recreation centres, pools and arenas, some partner facilities like YMCAs, and Calgary Public Library branches have all been ordered to close until further notice.

The move came just hours after the Alberta government announced all K-12 schools, preschools and post-secondary institutions would cancel classes indefinitely and child-care centres would be closed.

Main services to continue

City council is assuring Calgarians that most public-facing services — including utilities, transit and 911 services — will continue despite closure of libraries, recreational facilities and the zoo due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Let me be clear: your water will keep running and your power will stay on," Sampson said.

"Transit will keep operating, and if you have an emergency, you can still call 911 for help from fire, police and ambulance. There is no need to panic or worry that you won't receive essential city services."

Online municipal services also remain open for those who want to stay out of public places. Enmax has offered to extend payment dates and suspend disconnections to help power customers.

"Things are good. We know that numbers are going to go up in the next little while and ....the system is coping," Sampson said.

Sampson also said more groceries supplies are due into the city soon, and urged people to not buy more than they need.

He and councillors discussed how currently, casinos and bingo halls have been exempt from the 250-person limit for gatherings. Sampson said that if the province does not lift that exemption, he said CEMA will look at barring those gatherings.

They also discussed considering free transit, and encouraging taxi drivers to sanitize their cars.

Urgent motion for tax relief

Council is set to consider an urgent motion later Monday to bring in tax relief for residential and non-residential ratepayers in the city.

"We will get through the immediate shock of COVID-19," Duckworth said, but cautioned that recovering fully from the economic impact will be a long haul. 

Sampson is expected to update council at 1:30 p.m. on more changes under the city's state of local emergency declaration. 

After Monday's agenda is dealt with, council plans to cancel many of its meetings due to the coronavirus outbreak.

About half of city council took part in Monday's meeting via telephone.

"As you can appreciate, this is not business as usual," Duckworth said as he presented the framework at Monday's council meeting.

"The situation is evolving by the hour and we will adapt our response as required."

With files from John Gibson, Rachel Ward


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