Calgary invokes municipal emergency plan in response to COVID-19 outbreak

The City of Calgary has announced it will invoke its municipal emergency plan in response to the spread of COVID-19, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Thursday.

Decision gives Calgary Emergency Management Agency some additional powers

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi spoke to reporters along with city manager David Duckworth and Calgary Emergency Management Agency chief Tom Sampson on Thursday. (Audrey Neveu/CBC)

The City of Calgary has announced it will invoke its municipal emergency plan in response to the spread of COVID-19, Mayor Naheed Nenshi said Thursday.

The move will give the Calgary Emergency Management Agency (CEMA) some additional powers so they can make quicker decisions. 

"This is going to get worse. There will certainly be more cases, and we will certainly have serious cases," Nenshi said. "But there is no reason to panic … if you're here in Calgary, you're in the best place in the world to deal with this pandemic. We're in a place where we're going to look after one another."

The declaration of the municipal emergency plan took effect at 1:45 p.m. today.

It stops short of invoking a state of local emergency, like the city did in 2013, when the Bow and Elbow rivers flooded and thousands of Calgarians were forced out of their homes.

CEMA took over the emergency response during the floods, and provided support during the Slave Lake fires in 2011 and the H1N1 pandemic in 2009.

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Nenshi said invoking Calgary's municipal emergency plan may "seem like an overreaction," but it was an "intentional overreaction."

"When we think about how pandemics spread, when we think about flattening the curve, it means pushing cases out further," he said. "Overall, [it's about] not overwhelming our healthcare system. We've got to do [these things] quickly, and we've got to do them now."

City response

The head of CEMA, Tom Sampson, will be granted the authority to close or restrict city facilities or services under the municipal emergency plan.

Sampson said the city currently has plenty of masks and hand sanitizer, but he has ordered additional supplies to ensure we don't run out.

Watch CEMA head Tom Sampson and Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi outline how Calgary is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic:

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The head of the Calgary Emergency Management Agency and Mayor Naheed Nenshi gave an update on what the city is doing about the spread of coronavirus.

Sampson said the city has temporarily closed Devonian Gardens and James Short Park, though the plan is to reopen those this parks this weekend. Scheduled consultations for the Green Line this weekend have also been cancelled.

The city is also cancelling all out-of-country travel for its employees and giving its employees the option of working from home, where possible.

Calgary Chamber staff will be working from home starting Monday, and the physical office space will be closed to the public.

All Chamber events for March and April have been cancelled, or will be hosted online.

Other cancellations

Citing advice by Alberta's chief medical officer of health, the Jubilee Auditorium announced it would close effective immediately. Ticketholders will be contacted regarding refunds and show rescheduling shortly, according to a release.

The Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra announced all concerts had been cancelled until further notice, including three Harry Potter performances scheduled this weekend at the Jubilee.

The Calgary Marathon announced that it had suspended registration for its spring events, but was working on options for participants who had already registered.

Arts Commons announced it had postponed all shows at its venues — including the Jack Singer Concert Hall, Max Bell Theatre and Martha Cohen Theatre — and would contact ticket holders in the coming days.

Calgary schools are formulating their own response plans to the COVID-19 outbreak and updates are expected in the coming days.

The Glenbow Museum announced it would temporarily close to the public starting tomorrow and cancel all of its events in the month of March.

Provincial response

Four new cases of COVID-19 were announced in the Calgary zone by Alberta's chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw on Thursday — bringing the province's total to 23 confirmed cases.

In her news conference held Thursday afternoon Hinshaw said public gatherings of more than 250 people and all international events in the province should be cancelled.

Hinshaw said Alberta must adopt aggressive new measures to limit the spread of the virus. Schools and daycares can remain open, but Albertans are now being advised not to travel to any destination outside Canada.

The new numbers in Alberta include 15 cases in the Calgary zone, seven in the Edmonton zone and one in the central zone.

The city announcement comes one day after the World Health Organization declared the global COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Common symptoms include:

  • Fever.
  • Cough.
  • Tiredness.

But more serious symptoms can develop, including difficulty breathing and pneumonia, which can lead to death.

What should I do if I feel sick?

Isolate yourself and call your local public health authority. Do not visit an emergency room or urgent care centre to get tested.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
  • Be aware of evolving travel advisories to different regions.

More detailed information on the outbreak is available on the federal government's website.

Important reminder: The World Health Organization said more than 80 per cent of COVID-19 infections are estimated to be mild.

  • Have you got a news tip tied to the COVID-19 outbreak? You can reach CBC Calgary at or CBC Edmonton here

With files from Scott Dippel