Public gatherings in Alberta limited to 15 people, non-essential businesses closed
56 new cases of COVID-19 reported Friday, bringing total in province to 542
Public gatherings in Alberta will now be restricted to 15 people or fewer and a wide range of non-essential businesses — from clothing stores to hair salons — will be forced to close as the province tries to slow the spread of coronavirus.
The new rules on public gatherings includes family get-togethers, religious ceremonies, weddings and funerals, Premier Jason Kenney said Friday at a news conference in Edmonton.
"The actions we are taking are tough but necessary to protect public health," the premier said. "We understand that behind every such decision lies tens of thousands of jobs and businesses, that will throw people into economic and financial anxiety."
With much of the population hunkered down at home heading into another weekend of isolation and uncertainty, Alberta reported 56 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, bringing the total number of illnesses in the province to 542.
The province announced the immediate closure of all non-essential businesses, including close-contact businesses such as hair salons and barber shops, tattoo and piercing studios and esthetic services, as well as wellness studios and clinics.
All restaurants are no longer allowed to have dine-in service but can continue to offer takeout and delivery.
Non-essential retail stores such as clothing stores, computer and gaming stores and services in shopping malls such as hobby and toy stores, gift and specialty item stores, and furniture stores, must also close.
Health services affected
The closures also include non-emergency and non-critical health services provided by regulated health professionals or registered professionals, including dentistry, physiotherapy, massage, podiatry and optometry services.
Effective immediately, AHS will postpone any diagnostic imaging procedures considered non-urgent by the ordering physician.
"This will help limit opportunities for the virus to spread by limiting the amount of people entering our diagnostic imaging facilities," Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, said at Friday's news conference.
Alberta Precision Laboratories and DynaLife will ask physicians and community providers to immediately stop all non-essential and routine laboratory testing.
"Any bloodwork that is critical to a patient's immediate care will continue to be tested," Hinshaw said, "but we must free up more lab space for our aggressive COVID-19 testing."
The province also announced changes the Opposition NDP had called on for days, offering some relief for renters.
New protections, the province said in a news release, will mean:
- Effective immediately, tenants cannot be evicted for non-payment of rent or utilities before May 1.
- Effective immediately, rents will not increase while Alberta's state of public health emergency remains in effect.
- Effective April 1, late fees cannot be applied to late rent payments for the next three months.
- Effective April 1, landlords and tenants must work together to develop payment plans while the state of public health emergency is in effect.
"The actions we are announcing today are designed to address the needs of renters," Kenney said. "But also to ensure that landlords don't end up going out of business, because if they did that, that would reduce the availability of housing to Albertans."
"So this is a balanced but strong package to help renters who are under financial pressure right now."
Provincial parks closed to traffic
All provincial parks and recreation area access points have been closed to vehicle traffic.
The closures, which came into effect Friday, are the same restrictions currently in place at national parks, the province said.
"Last weekend revealed a disturbing trend of people not exercising physical distancing and leaving behind garbage and human waste in some provincial parks," the province said in a news release.
A week ago, on March 20, the provincial total had 195 cases. The total has increased by 351 cases since then, adding:
- 31 new cases on Saturday;
- 33 on Sunday;
- 42 on Monday;
- 57 on Tuesday;
- 61 on Wednesday;
- 67 on Thursday, and'
- 56 on Friday, bringing the total to 542.
Up to 42 of Alberta's cases are thought to have been transmitted in the community, an increase of eight from Thursday, Hinshaw said.
Twenty-three people are being treated in hospital, 10 of them in ICU.
Hinshaw said 33 people have recovered from the illness, an increase of six from Thursday.
Hinshaw cautioned during her update on Thursday that cases of community transmission may represent what she called "the tip of the iceberg."
Health officials know there are more cases that have not been detected, people who have contracted the virus and may not know it and therefore may continue to spread it.
"The aggressive measures we are taking today are not ones that we take lightly," Hinshaw said, "and I know they will impact the lives of many people.
"These restrictions were chosen after detailed analysis of spread within our province, and consideration of what other jurisdictions have done. As we have done from the start, we are assessing the situation and responding accordingly.
"I recognize that these measures are fundamentally reshaping people's lives. As I have said, we know that these measures may need to be in place for many weeks or even months.
"This is a delicate balance and we are implementing the restrictions that appear right for Alberta at this time."