Edmonton playgrounds to close immediately in response to coronavirus pandemic

The City of Edmonton announced it will close outdoor playgrounds effective immediately as part of its latest response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

747 bus route to Edmonton International Airport to halt normal service

The City of Edmonton is closing outdoor playgrounds effective immediately as part of its latest response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Genevieve Potvin/CBC)

The City of Edmonton announced it will close outdoor playgrounds effective immediately as part of its latest response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We understand this will be disappointing to some families," interim city manager Adam Laughlin said Tuesday afternoon.

The city is also closing sledding hills, no longer maintaining cross-country ski trails, removing picnic tables from city parks and providing notice they will not open spray parks on schedule this year.

Laughlin said the hard surfaces of playgrounds equipment are not cleaned or sanitized, leaving a risk of transmission of the novel coronavirus.

Park space around playgrounds, such as soccer fields, will remain open, he said.

The city may also take steps to close city infrastructure, such as river valley staircases, if it finds people aren't giving each other enough space, Laughlin said.

While parks and river valley access trails will remain open, Laughlin warned people to practise social distancing of at least six feet while outside.

"We're not asking you to stop spending time outside," he said. "We're just asking you to do it in a safe way."

Edmonton's emergency advisory council has identified 11 indicators it monitors before deciding to take the drastic step of closing more facilities, including adherence to provincial social distancing guidelines.

COVID-19 update for Alberta and Saskatchewan for March 24, 2020

3 years ago
Duration 15:28
The latest on the COVID-19 pandemic from Edmonton, Calgary and Saskatchewan

Next step is full facility closure

However, a rise in COVID-19 cases could also trigger more closures, Laughlin said.

"If we start to see a significant spike in the number of cases in the Edmonton zone … that may be an indicator for us to take that next step of full facility closure."

Laughlin also announced the city will halt its 747 bus route that runs to the Edmonton International Airport from the Century Park transit station.

Route 747 will remain open as a charter service for people who work at the airport or in its vicinity, Laughlin said.

The move supports the provincial government's initiative to have travellers immediately self-isolate when returning from abroad, he said.

Laughlin also addressed letters sent to Edmontonians that look as though they come from the city, but don't. The letters suggest the city is tracking people's movements using their licence plate numbers.

Fraudulent letters circulating

The city is trying to find out where the letters are coming from, Laughlin said.

"It's unfortunate that someone at this point in time would try to take advantage of Edmontonians," he said, adding that 311 is the best source of information if Edmontonians receive a message that could be a scam.

On Monday, the city announced it would close in-person services effective Tuesday at the Edmonton Service Centre in Edmonton Tower, the City Hall service counter, the Landlord and Tenant Advisory Board front counter, and the Reuse Centre.

Laughlin said Tuesday that since most of the city's services are accessible online or by phone, the closures shouldn't cause much of an inconvenience to the public.

This is the first official update provided by the city since Mayor Don Iveson declared a state of local emergency on Friday.

The declaration gave the city extra powers to co-ordinate services, restrict travel, distribute essential supplies, evacuate people and animals, enter places without a warrant, and procure or fix prices on essential products.

On Tuesday morning, Iveson issued a statement saying the city, along with the City of Calgary and the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association, wants to achieve widespread property tax relief across the province.

The city wants to be able to defer property taxes to both residential and non-residential taxpayers, he said.

To do that, the mayor said, the city would need substantial financial support from the provincial or federal government.

The provincial government has already announced it will defer education property taxes for businesses for six months, saying that would leave $458 million in the hands of employers to help them pay employees and continue operations.

Laughlin also thanked the people who were sending positive messages to front-line workers and other Edmontonians through sidewalk chalk or by hanging hand-drawn pictures in their windows for people to see as they walk by.

"I know these little messages of hope help me keep going each day as I'm sure they do for many of you as well," he said.