‘We can’t wait that long’: Edmonton, Calgary considering more COVID-19 restrictions

City councils in Edmonton and Calgary could be bringing in new measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus in the next week, independent of the Alberta government.

Sunday on The West Block with Mercedes Stephenson, Health Minister Tyler Shandro said if COVID-19 case numbers don’t decrease by Dec. 15, the government will explore further restrictions.

Read more: Alberta health minister rejects suggestions province too lax with coronavirus restrictions

“We can’t wait that long,” Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi said Monday.

“I appreciate that the health minister is trying to take a data-driven approach — and I believe in evidence-based decision making — but at some point you have to make a decision.

“You cannot have analysis paralysis.”

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Also on Monday Edmonton mayor Don Iveson said the city will continue to press the provincial government for stronger public health orders while also looking at further measures it can put in place, “details of which will be explored at a special council meeting I have called for tomorrow.”

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Iveson and Nenshi said they would be closely watching for anything to suggest the province was ready to implement more strict measures.

Nenshi said Calgary city council will have a meeting later in the week if no further restrictions come from the Alberta legislature.

Nenshi maintained his stance of not wanting to start a jurisdictional battle with the province, but said the health of his citizens could eventually take priority.

Read more: Calgary declares second coronavirus pandemic-related state of local emergency

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“My number one duty as the mayor is to protect the health of the citizens of Calgary who put their trust in me,” Nenshi said.

“Whether or not I have the black-line jurisdictional authority to do that — and the city will have to act without the province — I hope it doesn’t come to that.”

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Nenshi said Calgary’s city council could draft a new bylaw under the Municipal Government Act, similar to the city’s face covering bylaw.

“If that is necessary, I am very happy to bring that and champion that in front of council,” Nenshi said.

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“We have broad powers to legislate where it’s a matter of protecting the health and welfare of citizens,” Calgary’s mayor said.

“We rarely use those powers because, of course, health is a provincial responsibility. But again, if I have to, I will.”

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Monday afternoon, Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said she believes additional restrictions are needed to bend the curve, and that her team is working on “a package of recommendations for discussions.”

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“As you know, cabinet makes the ultimate decisions about what restrictions will be put in place and what timing… those are introduced,” Hinshaw said.

“We are concerned by these numbers and will be bringing those recommendations forward.”

But Hinshaw also said the early impacts of the late November public health orders are clear.

Read more: Coronavirus: Edmonton extends mandatory mask bylaw until December 2021

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Calls for tougher measures as Alberta’s COVID-19 infection rate surges

“I believe that all of those restrictions have put us in a better position than we would have been had we not introduced those restrictions,” the province’s top doctor said.

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“However, it’s currently looking like the measures that were put in place two weeks ago are unlikely to be sufficient to bend the curve downwards.”

Edmonton’s mayor called a lockdown “a last resort.”

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“My position remains that I think stronger measures are required and some equity for those businesses who have chosen to close versus those who haven’t, particularly in the hospitality sector,” Iveson said.

“Frankly, many of the businesses are asking us to be closed so that they can maximize their access to federal aid that’s only available to businesses that have been closed for in-room dining.”

Edmonton’s interim city manager Adam Laughlin didn’t have specifics on what exactly would be put in place in the province’s capital, but said it would be “in the vein” of non-essential activities.

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Read more: Iveson: Mayors generally support stronger COVID-19 measures but cities’ ‘tool kit is limited’

Calgary’s city council is also looking at increasing fines for people “flagrantly” breaking the mask bylaw.

Currently, the fine for breaking the public health order is $1,000 plus a $200 victim fee. Calgary’s mask bylaw fine currently sit at $50. To the end of November, Calgary police have issued approximately 40 tickets relating to the public health order.

Read more: Socio-economic factors at play in northeast Calgary’s COVID-19 cases

Iveson said the best-case for new public health measures are ones coming from the provincial government and covering all of Alberta.

“COVID-19 is not a virus constrained by municipal borders and the best way to tackle that spread is still by at least a region-wide approach, implemented by the provincial government using their stronger tools, which will, in turn, ensure that we’re not playing inter-municipal whack-a-mole with this deadly virus.”

© 2020 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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