EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says Calgary and the city of Brooks will get a lot more advance notice this time around on opening up their economies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kenney says a decision will be made and announced Friday on whether those two communities will be allowed to reopen restaurants and hair salons on Monday as proposed.
Kenney’s government was criticized when restaurant and hair shop owners expecting to open last Thursday in those cities were told with 18 hours notice that they would not get that permission.
Restaurants and hair salons were allowed to reopen throughout the rest of the province, along with retailers and daycares.
“I very much regret that more notice was not given,” Kenney told reporters Tuesday.
“I was expecting us to be able to proceed provincewide based on the indications I had received and based on the direction of the data, but (chief medical officer of health) Dr. (Deena) Hinshaw came to us with this advice.”
Kenney said they got that advice Tuesday night, worked out the logistics Wednesday morning and announced it that afternoon.
By then, a number of hair salons and restaurants in Calgary and Brooks had planned to reopen, purchasing supplies and rehiring staff.
“I subsequently met with Dr. Hinshaw and said, ‘Look we’ve got to make sure that doesn’t happen again. If for any reason there’s a recommendation from the public health authorities not to proceed, we’ve got to able to give people an indication of that with enough lead time to plan.’
“That’s absolutely legitimate and I understand why people are upset.”
The Opposition NDP said the announcement reflects a pattern of haste and poor preparation by Kenney’s United Conservative government, noting that health guidelines on how specific businesses can reopen were not published until three days before Thursday’s start date.
Calgary and Brooks have the vast majority of COVID cases in Alberta, and Hinshaw has said she wanted to go slower in those two areas to monitor the data to prevent another spike in infections as has been seen in other jurisdictions, such as the U.S. state of Alabama.
Calgary is Alberta’s largest city, while Brooks, in the province’s southeast, has a population of about 15,000. It’s home to the JBS slaughterhouse, where there has been a large outbreak of COVID-19.
Thursday’s reopening came with health restrictions. Restaurants, for example, can open only at half capacity to reduce the spread of the disease.
The maximum number for outdoor public gatherings also increased to 50 people from 15.
On Tuesday, Hinshaw reported Alberta has 1,004 active cases, with 61 people in hospital. There have been 127 deaths.
The case numbers look promising for Calgary and Brooks to reopen as expected, she said, adding the average incubation period is in the five-to-eight day range.
“This week is going to be critical … but certainly the numbers to date have been good,” said Hinshaw.
Alberta is reopening its economy in stages, as case counts show the province is flattening the curve on COVID-19. Barring new outbreaks, the next phase will happen on June 19, with movie theatres and spas allowed to resume.
Part of Alberta’s economic recovery may come from the National Hockey League.
The league suspended its season in February and is now eyeing a format to complete it with an improvised playoff scenario. One possibility is a tournament of 24 teams spread over two hub cities.
Kenney said he is working with the Edmonton Oilers on a proposal to be a host city and expects to be discussing the issue later this week with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.
He said Edmonton would be a prime location, given it has low COVID numbers and a new downtown rink with a hotel attached to provide an isolation safe zone for players.
“I think we’ve got a tremendous pitch to make,” said Kenney.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 19, 2020.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press