COVID-19 Update: GraceLife pastor goes on trial | Kenney ‘angered’ by illegal rodeo gathering | Legislature suspends sitting for two weeks

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With news on COVID-19 happening rapidly, we’ve created this page to bring you our latest stories and information on the outbreak in and around Calgary.


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My COVID Story: How have you been impacted by coronavirus?

Postmedia is looking to speak with people who may have been impacted by COVID-19 here in Alberta. Have you had an upcoming surgery postponed? Do you have a family member in the ICU, or have you recovered after spending time in the ICU? Have you changed your life for the better because of the pandemic? Send us an email at reply@calgaryherald.com to tell us your experience, or send us a message via this form.

Read our ongoing coverage of personal stories arising from the pandemic.



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Seize on pandemic-fuelled enthusiasm for outdoors to expand protected wilderness, former parks chief urges

A hiker looks at Lake O’Hara, located in Yoho National Park, in this undated handout image.
A hiker looks at Lake O’Hara, located in Yoho National Park, in this undated handout image. Photo by The Canadian Press

A former Parks Canada head says governments should look to expand protected wilderness in Canada, seizing on the enthusiasm for the outdoors that has emerged during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think it does help alleviate the potential impacts on existing parks and I think it creates new opportunities for people to connect with nature,” said Alan Latourelle, who headed the federal agency between 2002 and 2015. “We have a base of public support that we should seize at this time.”

In recent weeks, Alberta’s government has moved to add user fees to some of its protected areas, citing the conservation needs from increased visitors seeking to get out of the city. This includes a $90 annual pass for Kananaskis Country — an area just west of Calgary — and $30 fees for random camping on Crown lands.

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Trial to begin for Alberta pastor accused of violating COVID-19 health orders

Pastor James Coates walks out of the Edmonton Remand Centre and is greeted by a group of supporters on March 22, 2021.
Pastor James Coates walks out of the Edmonton Remand Centre and is greeted by a group of supporters on March 22, 2021. Photo by Ed Kaiser /Postmedia

The trial of an Alberta pastor accused of not following public health orders meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 is to begin today.

Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church spent a month in jail for violating a bail condition not to hold church services that officials have said ignored measures on capacity limits, physical distancing and masking.

He was released March 22 after pleading guilty and was fined $1,500.

The pastor and the Edmonton-area church still face one charge of violating Alberta’s Public Health Act.

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Canada to receive 2 million vaccine doses this week as Pfizer-BioNTech ramp up deliveries

Canada is set to begin receiving more than two million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine each week as the two pharmaceutical firms ramp up their deliveries and begin shipping shots from the United States.

Pfizer and BioNTech have been consistently delivering around one million doses from Brussels each week since mid-March, but those numbers will double over the next month before increasing further in June.

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Shared smoking breaks, broken rules: What led to Nunavut’s first COVID-19 cases?

Iqaluit, Nunavut, is shown after 2 p.m. sunset on Nov. 24, 2020.
Iqaluit, Nunavut, is shown after 2 p.m. sunset on Nov. 24, 2020. Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

Broken isolation rules, shared cigarettes and fear of extended isolation periods are some of the findings in a report that sheds light on how Nunavut’s first cases of COVID-19 suddenly appeared last November.

For eight months, while outbreaks erupted across the country, Nunavut remained free of infection, with the exception of some cases among mine workers from outside the territory.

That was partly because Nunavut has some of the tightest public health measures in the country. But health officials repeatedly warned that it was not a matter of if, but when COVID-19 would show up.

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Economic fallout from COVID-19 on par with ‘worst recession in 30 years’: ATB Financial

For lease signs along 17th Avenue S.W. in Calgary on Nov. 12, 2020.
For lease signs along 17th Avenue S.W. in Calgary on Nov. 12, 2020. Photo by Brendan Miller/Postmedia

The economic recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is among the worst Alberta has faced in three decades, indicates the latest ATB Financial data.

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The financial institute lists four major recessions over the last 30 years including two in the ’80s, one in 2009 and another in 2015. The pandemic, which has resulted in thousands of jobs lost and business closures, has ushered in yet another recession.

Figures released by ATB Financial show the number of active businesses in Alberta dropped by four per cent from February 2020 to January 2021.

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Vaccine bookings open to Ontario hot spot residents 18 and older

Ground crew unload a shipment of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at Toronto Pearson Airport in Mississauga, Ont., on April 28, 2021.
Ground crew unload a shipment of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine at Toronto Pearson Airport in Mississauga, Ont., on April 28, 2021. Photo by REUTERS/Carlos Osorio

Ontario is making good on its promise to expand COVID-19 vaccine eligibility, opening its provincial booking portal today to hot-spot residents aged 18 and older.

Adults living in the 114 specific postal codes designated as hot spots are able to start reserving appointments as of this morning, though some on social media reported long wait times or technical difficulties with the provincial booking website.

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‘Smarten up’: Kenney ‘angered’ by large gathering at rodeo as Alberta reports another 1,731 COVID-19 cases

Premier Jason Kenney spoke out against a “No More Lockdowns Rodeo” near Bowden on the weekend.
Premier Jason Kenney spoke out against a “No More Lockdowns Rodeo” near Bowden on the weekend. Photo by Chris Schwarz /Government of Alberta

Alberta’s premier says he is “angered and saddened” by people flouting restrictions at an illegal rodeo on the weekend.

Premier Jason Kenney spoke out against the two-day “No More Lockdowns Rodeo” which took place outside Bowden, about 105 kilometres north of Calgary. The event drew thousands of people to gather, at a time when outdoor gatherings of more than 10 are in contravention of the rules.

Kenney told Albertans defying those restrictions to “smarten up” on social media Sunday.

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“The reason we are at this critical stage of the pandemic in Alberta, with record-high daily case counts and intensive care numbers, is precisely because too many Albertans are ignoring the rules we currently have in place,” Kenney said on Twitter and Facebook.

As of Sunday, there are 648 patients in hospital, including 155 admitted to intensive-care units. This is the highest number of COVID-19 patients in Alberta ICUs at one time.

Alberta reported another 1,731 new cases of COVID-19 provincewide on Sunday, after logging a record-high 2,433 on Saturday.

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‘He’s a coward’: Kenney suspends Alberta legislature as COVID cases soar

NDP Leader Rachel Notley speaks at a press conference in Calgary on March 2, 2021.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley speaks at a press conference in Calgary on March 2, 2021. Photo by Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s government is suspending the spring sitting of the legislature due to soaring, record-breaking caseloads of COVID-19.

Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Kenney was abandoning his post, deserting Albertans and allowing others to work at personal risk on the front lines while leaving unfinished critical legislative work, such as paid sick leave.

“He’s a coward,” Notley told reporters Sunday, just hours after Kenney’s government announced the suspension in a statement.

“This premier has locked the people out of their own legislature at a time when they are likely looking more than ever to that very building, and the people running the government inside of it, for leadership.”

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India flight ban leaves some Calgarians stranded in the COVID-ravaged country

Gurbhajan Dhillon holds a photo of his parents Harbans and Sukhdev Dhillon and their grandkids in his phone while his wife Rajvir Dhillon stands beside him on Sunday, May 2, 2021. Harbans and Sukhdev Dhillon are unable to fly back to Canada from India because of the travel ban.
Gurbhajan Dhillon holds a photo of his parents Harbans and Sukhdev Dhillon and their grandkids in his phone while his wife Rajvir Dhillon stands beside him on Sunday, May 2, 2021. Harbans and Sukhdev Dhillon are unable to fly back to Canada from India because of the travel ban. Photo by Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

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When Gurlal Gill left Calgary last month to visit his dying mother in India, he didn’t know how dire the country’s COVID-19 situation would become.

Now, Gill, his brother and his wife are stranded in India’s Punjab state after Canada banned all flights from the country on April 22 due to a rapid spike in cases of the novel coronavirus in India.

India has reported upwards of 400,000 daily cases of the virus in recent days, spread driven by the “double mutant” B.1.617 variant; one case of this variant has been found in Alberta. The surge has toppled India’s health-care system and led to an oxygen shortage.

“We’re stuck here, and we’ve been trying to come back home to Calgary as soon as possible,” Gill said. “My mom passed away on the 10th. We were done with (funeral arrangements) after the 20th, and we tried to come back, but then Canada stopped the flights.

“I don’t know what to do.”

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How one Ontario region has made COVID rapid testing free and widely available

Health-care workers conduct rapid COVID-19 screening on a city bus in the Waterloo Region Friday. The rollout of rapid testing in Canada has been slow, but that is changing.
Health-care workers conduct rapid COVID-19 screening on a city bus in the Waterloo Region Friday. The rollout of rapid testing in Canada has been slow, but that is changing. Photo by Peter J. Thompson/National Post

When it comes to rapid testing in Canada, there is a bad news story and a good news story.

The bad news is that since rapid tests were first approved last fall, their rollout has been painfully slow and bogged down by excessive regulation, with the result being that a third wave ripped through the country while tens of millions of rapid tests sat unused.

But the good news is the situation is finally improving. Provincial health authorities, changing course with the nimbleness of an aircraft carrier, have finally begun lifting the restrictions that have hampered the use of rapid tests for months.

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Sunday

Volunteers deliver food to Muslims stuck in isolation while marking Ramadan

Centre for Newcomers CEO Anila Lee Yuen outside her house in Calgary on Saturday.
Centre for Newcomers CEO Anila Lee Yuen outside her house in Calgary on Saturday. Photo by Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

Several Calgary community groups are providing food hampers to aid Muslims in need during the holy month of Ramadan.

In the past year, the Calgary East Zone Newcomers Collaborative has delivered 5,185 food hampers to nearly 26,000 people, helping those in need due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Of course Muslims come from many different cultural backgrounds, so if it’s a Middle Eastern family or a family from India or Indonesia — wherever that family is from — it includes foods they typically eat and all halal,” said Anila Lee Yuen, chair of the collaborative.

“When people are in crisis situations, being able to have the food that’s comforting to them is extremely important.”

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Sunday

Cargill clinic immunizes 1,638 workers, a ‘bright spot of hope’ in COVID storm

A worker receives a shot at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Cargill meat-packing plant in High River on Thursday, April 29, 2021.
A worker receives a shot at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Cargill meat-packing plant in High River on Thursday, April 29, 2021. Photo by Courtesy Cargill/Jason Dziver

An immunization clinic for workers at the Cargill meat-packing plant in High River was a “smashing success,” according to one organizer.

Doctors running the on-site clinic used every last dose of vaccine they had to inoculate 1,638 workers. They planned to run the clinic for three days, but ran through their supply in only a day and a half.

“We ended up superseding the number of people who had signed up with walk-ins,” said Dr. Gabriel Fabreau, an assistant professor at the University of Calgary who was among co-leads at the clinic.

“It’s a smashing success. It’s an unmitigated, unbelievable success.”

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Sunday

Vax hunters: Two Edmonton women take Alberta’s vaccine booking system into their own hands

Pharmacist Joanna Wong administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a patient at Market Drugs Medical pharmacy in Edmonton on Tuesday, April 13, 2021.
Pharmacist Joanna Wong administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a patient at Market Drugs Medical pharmacy in Edmonton on Tuesday, April 13, 2021. Photo by Larry Wong /Postmedia

Looking to book a vaccine but can’t seem to navigate the system? Two Edmonton women are here to help as they make sure everyone who wants a shot can get one.

Janaya Matheson and Sarah Mackey have spent the past week guiding Albertans through the multitude of avenues available to book vaccine appointments. Posting open slots on social media, supporting people online and answering as many questions as they can, Matheson said they have been flooded with inquiries since they began.

“We’re just a couple of women here who are looking at helping hook people up with appointments, the system is not easy to navigate at all times, people have lots of questions,” said Matheson.

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Sunday

Indian industry body urges curbs to economic activity to save lives

File photo: Uday Kotak poses for a photograph in Mumbai, India, on Monday, Dec. 12, 2011.
File photo: Uday Kotak poses for a photograph in Mumbai, India, on Monday, Dec. 12, 2011. Photo by Dhiraj Singh/Bloomberg

NEW DELHI — A leading Indian industry body urged authorities to take the “strongest national steps” and to curtail economic activity to save lives on Sunday as the country battles surging coronavirus cases that have overwhelmed the health-care system.

The rate of new infections dipped marginally but deaths kept climbing. Authorities reported 392,488 new cases in the previous 24 hours, pushing total cases to 19.56 million. Deaths jumped by a record 3,689, taking the overall toll to 215,542.

Billionaire Uday Kotak, managing director of Kotak Mahindra Bank, said a “maximal response measure at the highest level is called for to cut the transmission links,” as building healthcare infrastructure will take time.

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He was speaking on behalf of the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), where he is the president.

“At this critical juncture when toll of lives is rising, CII urges the strongest national steps including curtailing economic activity to reduce suffering,” Kotak said in a statement.

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Sunday

Britain to send 1,000 more ventilators to India

People suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are treated inside an overcrowded casualty ward at a hospital in New Delhi, India, May 1, 2021.
People suffering from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are treated inside an overcrowded casualty ward at a hospital in New Delhi, India, May 1, 2021. Photo by REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

LONDON — Britain will send another 1,000 ventilators to India, the government said on Sunday, stepping up its support as India’s healthcare system struggles to cope with a huge surge in cases of COVID-19.

India has reported more than 300,000 daily cases for more than 10 days straight, leaving hospitals, morgues and crematoriums overwhelmed.

The British government had previously agreed to send 600 medical devices, including ventilators and oxygen concentrators.

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