Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announced new restrictions on Tuesday, moving students online and closing patios among other measures amid a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Dr. Stephanie Smith, an infectious disease physician at the University of Alberta Hospital, believes these restrictions — outlined below — are necessary and will help bring the case count down.
“We’ve continued week after week to see this increase in numbers in the community and in the hospital,” she said.
“I think we do need to somehow shut it down. While the vaccines are certainly going to help us, we just don’t have enough of the population vaccinated right now to rely on that alone, so I think a hopefully short-lived circuit-breaking lockdown is probably necessary.”
It’s going to take a little while for these restrictions to be felt in the health-care system, Smith explained, so she hopes the gravity of the situation is evident to Albertans.
“I certainly hope that people will listen,” she said.
“I do think that the restrictions will be short-lived, and we will start to see a decline in cases, and then hopefully, we can get back to having a hopefully more normal summer.”
Restrictions in a nutshell
The province said the new measures apply to all Albertans, businesses, organizations and service providers in municipalities or areas with more than 50 cases per 100,000 people and with 30 or more active cases. They will be in place for at least three weeks.
The following restrictions take effect May 5:
- any workplace — except work camps and essential and critical services — with transmission of three or more cases will be required by health officials to close for 10 days
- all post-secondary learning moves online
- all indoor fitness must close, including one-on-one training
- retail capacity limited to 10 per cent of fire code occupancy or a minimum of five customers
- outdoor social gatherings, currently limited to 10 people, will be limited to five people. Indoor gatherings are still prohibited
- places of worship, currently limited to 15 per cent capacity, will be limited to 15 people
- funerals, currently limited to 20 people, will be limited to 10 people
Starting May 7, according to Kenney, kindergarten to Grade 12 will move to at-home learning until May 25.
Effective at 11:59 p.m. on May 9:
- personal and wellness services — including hair salons, tattoo parlours, tanning salons and nail salons — will close
- in-person dining at bars and restaurants, including outdoor patios, will close. Takeout/delivery only
- outdoor sports/recreation will be limited to household and close contacts only
- indoor sport, performance and recreation activities for youth and adults will be prohibited
- health, social and professional services — such as massage therapy, physicians, dentists, accountants and lawyers — will remain available by appointment only
The government doubled the basic fine for violating public health orders from $1,000 to $2,000. Kenney said there will be tougher enforcement protocol for repeat offenders.
Pivoting back to takeout
Alberta Hospitality Association president Ernie Tsu said the up and downs of opening and closing have taken a toll on the industry.
“It’s going to be devastating for every restaurant across the province that has been scrambling the last two to three weeks to get their patios mobilized — a lot of money invested at that point and a lot of money that restaurants don’t have right now,” he said.
“It’s next to impossible for restaurants to stay alive on takeout and delivery.”
Jordan Sorrenti with Paddy’s Barbecue & Brewery in Calgary is frustrated by the news after hiring more staff as patio dining was just starting to pick up with the nice weather.
“Now the third or fourth shutdown is just getting very tiring because I’m trying to keep my staff employed, trying to bring new people on, and it’s just really frustrating,” he said.
With NHL playoffs around the corner, it’s another tough blow for patios.
Edmonton’s Mercer Tavern would love to stay open, and management says it put a lot of money into making it work.
“It’s unfortunate for us and the rest of the industry, for sure. Pivoting back to just takeout programs is difficult for a lot of us, especially with the investment we just made into patios and bringing our entire restaurant outdoors,” said general manager Bryan Schmidt.
“Especially the timing with coming into Oilers playoffs and stuff like that, you really want to be open. You’re kind of chomping at the bit to have that kind of business back.
“We don’t ever want to shut down, obviously, but we’re going to listen to what they have to say.”
This is the busiest time of year for Bunches Flower Co. in Edmonton, with Mother’s Day approaching this weekend.
It has hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of products in stores right now, and with retail being lowered to 10 per cent capacity, its Southgate location and others will be affected.
“It’s been a little bit like the Hunger Games to try and get enough product and to get it here on time,” said Sharon Armstrong, co-owner of Bunches Flower Co.
“I wish they had done this maybe in the depths of January when everybody was already holed up at home, and we didn’t have the option of dining outside and doing all these other things and all these other holidays and graduations that are coming up now.”
‘A stressful time’
Annie Dormuth, director of Alberta provincial affairs at the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said the restrictions will continue to hurt small businesses.
“We are really disappointed in the sense that new restrictions are being announced, and again, complete closure of some businesses. The premier earlier this evening or yesterday did not make an announcement on additional funding that would be available to help these small businesses,” she said.
Dormuth is calling on the government to introduce a circuit-breaker grant, much like B.C. She said a quarter of small businesses across Alberta are on the brink of permanent closure.
“You have to take into consideration a small business owner — they’re a small business. That’s their livelihood, it’s their entire life’s work, it’s their retirement plan, and sometimes, they’re even the sole provider of their family, so it is definitely a stressful time for small businesses out there,” Dormuth said.
“That is really why it’s imperative that the Alberta government does step up here and provide additional supports directly to these industries,” she said, citing fitness, hospitality and personal service sectors.
– With files from Global News’ Adam MacVicar and Lisa MacGregor
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