Edmonton

Banff, Fort McMurray await details before deciding on COVID-19 curfews

COVID-19 hot spots in a Rocky Mountain tourist town and northeastern Alberta's oilsands hub want more details from the provincial government before deciding to request curfews.

A handful of Alberta regions have case rates high enough to institute a curfew

Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday that curfews could be imposed in municipalities where the virus case rate exceeds 1,000 per 100,000 people and if the local governments ask for one. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)

The mayor of a Rocky Mountain resort town is looking for more details on implementing a possible COVID-19 curfew, even though she doubts the drastic measure would make much difference.

"Our late-night or even earlier-in-the-night activity is minimal in Banff at this point," Banff Mayor Karen Sorensen said Friday. "Restaurants and bars aren't open and there just aren't a lot of people out and about."

Banff is one of a handful of regions with a COVID-19 case rate that exceeds one in 100, meaning it can apply to the province to set a curfew, part of a new suite of measures introduced by Premier Jason Kenney this week to reduce high infection rates.

The Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes the city of Fort McMurray, has Alberta's highest case rate at 1.5.

Wood Buffalo Mayor Don Scott said they are not requesting a curfew, adding "any (future) move in that direction would be discussed at a public meeting with public input."

The County of Barrhead, northwest of Edmonton, with a case rate of 1.02, is not considering a curfew. Reeve Douglas Drozd said it's a busy time of year for farmers and not the time to "get in the way."

Northern Sunrise County also said it will not be pursuing a curfew, noting it has a small population spread over a wide area.

Alberta has seen well over 1,000 new cases a day for weeks and surpassed 2,000 on Thursday and again on Friday. Total active cases are a record 21,828. There are 649 people in hospital, including 152 in intensive care.

Both Banff and Wood Buffalo will be receiving additional vaccines in coming days. 

Hospitals bracing for worst

Hospitals are cancelling non-urgent surgeries, ramping up capacity for an expected influx of patients.

Also Friday, doctors were briefed on the triage protocol should the system become so overwhelmed, life-and-death choices must be made.

Dr. Shazma Mithani, who works in two Edmonton emergency departments, said it was sobering.

"We thought we would never have to make decisions like that — who gets to have ICU bed versus who doesn't," said Mithani.

"I don't think people necessarily understand the moral distress that a decision like that has on us."

Calgary emergency room doctor Joe Vipond said rising COVID numbers reflect government policy failure. "We've avoided making the hard decisions of putting in strong restrictions and kicking the can down the road and this is what you get — you get exponential growth."

Kenney as late as Monday rejected implementing new restrictions, saying the existing ones would be fine if people followed them. Then on Thursday, the premier introduced new rules for hot spots, saying health restrictions are critical to bending the curve.

The rules apply to areas seeing more than 3.5 cases for every 1,000 residents along with having at least 250 active cases. Those regions include Edmonton, Calgary, Grande Prairie, Red Deer, Fort McMurray and Lethbridge.

For at least the next two weeks, all students in grades 7-12 in affected areas will study remotely.

All indoor fitness activities are cancelled and indoor recreation facilities must close.

On Thursday, Kenney also said there would be renewed efforts for front-line restaurant staff to ensure those dining on patios are all from the same household, as per health rules.

Ernie Tsu, owner of Trolley 5 Restaurant and Brewery in Calgary, said they want more details to make sure wait staff aren't overburdened.

"It's up to us as owners and managers to ensure that we're not putting them in harm's way or into a situation that they're having to ask or dig for people's IDs," said Tsu.

The Opposition NDP said moving classes home on such short notice is another example of a government writing pandemic policy on the fly, with parents and caregivers paying the price.

NDP critic Shannon Phillips said Kenney is trying to mollify anti-lockdown critics in his base and in his United Conservative caucus at the expense of Albertans' health.

"That is, I think the most stunning abrogation of the public interest from Mr. Kenney and shows the weakest of leadership," said Phillips.

Kenney faces severe criticism from almost half his backbench legislature members for the existing restrictions, which include no indoor social gatherings and sharp curtailment at stores and worship services.

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