Public gatherings of more than 250 people and all international events should be cancelled as Alberta’s public health system works to contain the spread of COVID-19, says the province’s chief medical officer of health.
With four new cases reported on Thursday, all in the Calgary zone, Alberta must adopt “aggressive new measures” to limit the spread in the virus, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said at a news conference.
“There is a window of opportunity for Alberta to slow the spread of the virus,” Hinshaw said. “The steps we take now and in the days ahead will help determine the severity of this outbreak for Alberta. These are extraordinary circumstances, and our public health measures must rise to the challenge we face.”
Schools and day cares can remain open, Hinshaw said, but should avoid large gatherings such as assemblies.
Officials are currently discussing whether or not to close schools, she said. Such a move would significantly disrupt the lives of families across the province, and any decision would have to weigh the enormous social costs against the possible public benefits of taking such action.
With information about the spread and impact of the coronavirus changing by the hour, Hinshaw outlined new measures to isolate individuals and limit the number of cases.
Organizers have been asked to cancel all events with more than 250 attendees, and any event with more than 50 attendees that expects to have international participants, or involves critical infrastructure staff, seniors or other high-risk populations.
“We know that this announcement and this recommendation will have a significant impact on Albertans and, as I said yesterday, we know that any decision that we take to limit the spread of this virus will not be short-lived, it will extend for some time,” Hinshaw said. “The risk of waiting is greater than the risk of implementing these measures now.”
Based on the new recommendations, several entertainment venues announced cancellations including the Northern and Southern Alberta Jubilee Auditoriums, Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre and the Telus World of Science.
The City of Edmonton announced it would cancel all large gatherings shut down city-run seniors centres. City council will hold an emergency council meeting Friday morning to discuss the province’s new measures and the potential closure of city recreation centres.
Advised against travel outside Canada
The new measures do not include schools, post-secondary institutions, places of worship, grocery stores, airports or shopping centres, Hinshaw said.
Albertans are being advised not to travel anywhere outside the country, as the global situation is changing so quickly it is no longer possible to assess the health risks of individual destinations, Hinshaw said.
All Albertans outside the country are asked to self-isolate for 14 days once they return, no matter which country they visited.
“We continue to track and monitor the development of the spread of this virus around the world,” Hinshaw said. “We don’t take these decisions lightly, and we want to weigh out the potential risks of this action against the benefits.”
The risk of contracting the coronavirus has not changed in the past 24 hours, Hinshaw said. What has changed is the concern about international travellers bringing the virus into the province.
The four new cases brings the province’s total to 23. All are related to travel outside the country.
One new case reported Thursday involved a two-year-old child who tested positive after returning from a family trip to Florida. The child is recovering at home in Calgary, she said.
The total includes 15 cases from the Calgary zone, seven from the Edmonton zone, and one from the central zone.
Edmonton police Chief Dale McFee said Thursday that emergency operators have seen a marked increase in the number of 911 calls.
“The panic and the overreaction isn’t going to help right now,” said McFee, who reiterated that people who are not experiencing emergencies should call Health Link at 811 and be prepared to be patient.
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization declared a pandemic. Much has changed since then.
Professional sports leagues have suspended or postponed their seasons.
The first minister’s meeting scheduled to be held in Ottawa has been cancelled. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his wife, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, have gone into self-isolation after she showed symptoms upon return from a trip to the U.K.
The United States has confirmed more than 1,300 cases and has now suspended all travel from Europe, with the exception of Americans returning home from abroad.
Manitoba and Saskatchewan have confirmed their first cases.