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'This is a serious moment in our history': Alberta Premier Jason Kenney declares public health emergency

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has declared a public health emergency to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bars, casinos to shut immediately while restaurants, coffee shops to get seating limits

The decision to put the province under a state of public emergency is part of Alberta's effort in a bid to slow the rising number of coronavirus infections. 3:02

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has declared a state of public health emergency as the province works to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This declaration is meant to empower authorities under the Public Health Act to effectively manage the COVID response," Kenney said.

"Decisive action is needed and we are taking that action."

Kenney made the announcement Tuesday at the Alberta legislature.

Alberta's Provincial Operations Centre has been elevated from a level 3 to a level 4, the highest level, Kenney said.

Bars, nightclubs and casinos will close immediately.

Seating in restaurants and coffee shops will be limited to a maximum of 50 people or 50-per-cent capacity, whichever is lower, he said.

Take-out, delivery and drive-through service is permitted.

Licensed facilities will also be permitted to deliver liquor, in part to help them sell off inventory.

"We apologize to operators of these establishments for the suddenness of this, although I think they've seen it coming," Kenney said.

Mass gatherings are now limited to no more than 50 attendees. This includes worship gatherings and family events such as weddings, the province said in a news release.

Kenney said funerals with more than 50 people should also be cancelled.

Grocery stores, shopping centres, health-care facilities, airports, the legislature and other essential services are not included. Soup kitchens and homeless shelters will also not be affected by the order.

Albertans are prohibited from attending public recreational facilities and private entertainment facilities, including gyms, swimming pools, arenas, science centres, museums, art galleries, community centres, children's play centres, casinos, racing entertainment centres, and bingo halls.

Not-for-profit community kitchens, soup kitchens and religious kitchens are exempt, but sanitization practices are expected to be in place and support will be in place for this practice.

The decision to put the province under a state of public health emergency is part of Alberta's effort to try to slow the rising number of coronavirus infections.

"This is a serious moment in our history and COVID-19 will test us," Kenney said. "We will do whatever it takes to slow the spread of this virus."

$60 million in emergency funding

Municipalities, charitable and non-profit organizations providing social services support will immediately get $60 million to help their COVID-19 response, the government news release said.

The funding will go to adult homeless shelters, women's emergency shelters and the Family and Community Support Services (FCSS) program, which supports municipalities and civil society organizations in providing services to vulnerable Albertans.

The money will be disbursed before March 31, Kenney said. He said he has appointed Jeremy Nixon, former executive director of The Mustard Seed, as parliamentary secretary for civil society.

Nixon will work with charities and non-profits to ensure they are helping to reach out to seniors and other vulnerable people who are in isolation.

Half of the $60 million will be dedicated to immediate support to women's shelters and homeless shelters.

The other $30 million will extend support services to seniors and other communities who are isolated because of the pandemic or otherwise affected.

Don't hoard groceries, Kenney says

Kenney said he has been assured by the Retail Council of Canada, and chains such as Loblaws and Walmart, that supply chains and food security are not compromised, so there is no need for people to engage in hoarding or panic buying.

"We do recommend that people have enough food on hand to cope through a couple of weeks, given the likelihood that many people will be affected by self-isolation for 14 days," he said. "But there is no logical reason for people to go out and buy weeks and weeks or months of supplies."

He commended Alberta retailers who have set specific hours for seniors to do their shopping in safety, and encouraged all other retailers to follow suit.

Emergency Management Act may be needed

Kenney said officials may decide to invoke other powers under the Emergency Management Act.

Those powers could be used to prevent people from leaving or entering the province, or allow authorities to seize property, he said

"It's conceivable that if the pandemic goes in the wrong direction, that we may need to effectively use hotels to house people for quarantine, for example," Kenney said.

"The [legislation] would give us those authorities. We do not believe that they are currently necessary but I have told officials that if they believe we need those powers, they should recommend it and we should invoke that."

Earlier Tuesday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency in that province.

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