ALBERTA— In an effort to protect the health and safety of Albertans during the COVID-19 pandemic, the province will be legally enforcing measures to help prevent the spread of the virus.
Premier Jason Kenney announced Wednesday (March 25) that law enforcement agencies, including community bylaw officers and police, have been granted the full authority to enforce public health orders, including the ability to issue fines - up to $100 a day to a prescribed fine of $1,000 per occurrence.
Kenney said the COVID-19 virus is a “dangerous but manageable” health crisis, and praised the province's pandemic planning and swift of action of Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, her team and Alberta Health Services.
“The overwhelming majority of Albertans have been very responsible and civic-minded in responding to this crisis. Most of us understand that we all have a role to play in limiting the spread of the disease,” Kenney said. “Sadly, not everyone seems to get it; too many people continue to ignore these guidelines that have been issued by doctor Hinshaw and the Alberta government of Alberta– in so doing they endanger the health of others.”
Wednesday (March 25) recorded 61 new cases of COVID-19 in the province, bringing the total number of cases to 419. A reported 20 people have been isolated and eight patients are receiving care in an intensive care unit. It is suspected 33 of the reported cases have likely occurred through community transmission.
Data shows that five cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the Canmore region and none in Banff, according to covid19stats.alberta.ca.
“Despite aggressive measures already in place, it has become clear that additional measures are needed,” Hinshaw said. “It is up to all of us to do everything we can to prevent the spread of this virus.”
These legal actions to limit the spread of COVID-19 come in the addition of the mandatory self-isolation of travellers returning to Canada from outside the country announced by the federal government, Kenney said. This legal requirement extends to those who have been in close contact with confirmed cases of COVID-19 and individuals displaying symptoms that include a fever, cough, sore throat or runny nose.
The ability to enforce these safety measures was created by amendments to the procedures regulation under the Provincial Offences Procedures Act, using a ministerial order under the public health emergency. The changes will be coming to the legislature shortly to create amendments on a permanent basis.
“Any expansion of police powers should be ultimately subject to legislative authorization,” Kenney said. “Perhaps we will consider putting a sunset clause on these enhanced powers– it’s not our intention to use these except in the most extraordinary circumstances.”
Kenney praised the support the province has received from municipalities and First Nations in helping to prevent the spread of the virus by supporting the containment measures that have been put in place. These partnerships have been strengthened through amendments to the Emergency Management Act, which allows local and provincial states of emergency to exist at the same time as the provincial public health emergency, Kenney said, explaining that this has allowed authorities to respond more effectively to the pandemic.
The Town of Banff and Stoney Nakoda First Nation declared a state of local emergency on March 17, followed by The Town of Canmore declaring a state of local emergency on March 25
“We’re managing the early stages of the outbreak in Alberta effectively,” Kenney said, citing the province's rank of fourth in the world in terms of testing per capita.
As part of Wednesday's announcement, courts have been granted increased powers to hand out fines of up to $100,000 for a first-time offence and up to $500,000 for repeat violations.
Those subject to these fines include anyone who fails to adhere to the mandatory self-isolation of 14-days after returning to the country or 10 days from the onset of symptoms. Those who do no self-isolate for a minimum of 10 days from the start of COVID-19 symptoms. Those who come in contact with people with COVID-19 and do not self-isolate.
Also included in these legally enforceable measures are any mass gathering that fails to restrict attendance to no more than 50 people, public recreational facilities, private entertainment facilities, bars or nightclubs and that remain open and those that violate the visitation rules to long-term care or other continuing care facilities.
“These new enforcement measures are recent, prudent but necessary response to the escalating COVID-19 outbreak in Alberta,” Kenney said. “When life returns to normal we will no longer require these kinds of extraordinary powers, but right now we must use every tool available to ensure public safety.”
Kenney added that at this time the province has not seen the conditions that would warrant a general Declaration of Emergency in Alberta.
In addition, further mandatory actions are being taken to prevent the spread of the virus at continuing and long term care facilities, Hinshaw said. Only essential visitors can attend the facilities and must undergo screening before entering along with new guidelines for enhanced cleaning and the use of shared spaces.
Facilities under this order include all nursing homes, designated supportive living and long term care facilities, seniors lodges and any facility in which residential addictions treatment services are offered under the Mental Health Services Protection Act.
“We must all do everything possible to follow all public health recommendations in place,” Hinshaw said. “All of us have a role and responsibility to stop the spread and there are actions that all of us can take.”