EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney on Tuesday banned all gatherings of more than 50 people — including weddings and funerals — as he declared a state of public emergency due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
His government also called off a fee fight with doctors that physicians have called an intolerable distraction as they work on the front lines to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“The situation is very serious and we are taking action more effectively to protect Albertans against this pandemic,” Kenney said at the legislature.
He said public recreation facilities, casinos, bingo halls, bars, museums and art galleries would be closed immediately if they weren’t already.
Worship services and conferences also fall under the 50-person rule.
Sit-down restaurants are being limited to half their capacity, but only up to 50 people. Take-out, delivery or drive-through service is still permitted.
Grocery stores, shopping centres, health-care facilities and airports are among the essential services that remain open.
Kenney, noting that he has been in touch with the Retail Council of Canada and other supermarket chains, also urged Albertans not to hoard food and other household supplies.
“All of them assure us they have all of the supplies that are necessary to fulfil demand for the future, that supply chains and food security are not compromised. There is no need for people to engage in hoarding or panic-buying,” he said.
“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.
“There is no need for people to engage in hoarding or panic-buying.”
“But there is no logical reason for people to go out and buy weeks and weeks or months of supplies.”
Kenney said his government will spend $60 million on charities and non-profit groups who are helping people cope with the effects of COVID-19. That’s to include $30 million focused on seniors.
The money is to be delivered before the end of the month, he said.
The pandemic arose during an ongoing dispute between doctors and the province over changes to fees and billing that were to be unilaterally imposed by the province April 1.
Doctors had said a change to how they could bill for more complex patient visits was sowing confusion and anxiety. They predicted it could force some rural and family practices to close.
Shandro had resisted calls to delay the changes, but relented on Tuesday and said they would not go ahead as planned.
“During these unprecedented times, we want to ensure physicians on the front lines can focus solely on providing patient care,” Shandro said in a statement.
Dr. Christine Molnar, representing physicians as head of the Alberta Medical Association, called the decision, “a significant step in supporting patients and physicians. There is still work to be done.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 17, 2020