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Calgary declares state of local emergency in response to COVID-19 spread

Monday, March 16th 2020, 12:00 pm - 'This is going to be difficult,' says Mayor Naheed Nenshi

The City of Calgary has declared a state of local emergency in response to the growing coronavirus pandemic — an extremely rare move that was last done during catastrophic flooding in the summer of 2013.

The move means city-operated recreation centres, pools and arenas, some partner facilities like YMCAs, and Calgary Public Library branches have all been ordered to close until further notice.

RELATED: COVID-19: Updates, resources, and 'flattening the curve'

The move came just hours after the Alberta government announced all K-12 schools, preschools and post-secondary institutes would cancel classes indefinitely and child-care centres would be closed.

SOME PUBLIC PLACES WILL NEED TO LIMIT CAPACITY

"This is tough. People rely on these services as outlets for themselves, as places to go, for many, many people they are in fact lifelines," Mayor Naheed Nenshi told reporters Sunday night.

Nenshi announced the measures at the city's emergency operations centre along with city manager David Duckworth and Calgary's Emergency Management Agency chief Tom Sampson.

The measures took effect at 12:01 a.m. MT Monday.

The closures don't apply to restaurants, bars and cafes, but they will be required to keep their capacity to either less than half their capacity under fire regulations, or less than 250 people.

Officials said the Calgary state of emergency was issued for two reasons:

  • The number of cases in Calgary jumped in 24 hours, with 14 new cases of COVID-19 confirmed in the city, taking Alberta's total up to 56.
  • The city appears to be seeing the first instances of cases spread through the community, rather than by travel or contact with someone sick.

Two new Calgary cases were caused by unknown sources so it's likely that there are other, undiagnosed cases related to those two in the province, Alberta's chief medical officer said Sunday.

And another seven cases were all traced back to a single gathering in the Calgary area.

ACCESS TO GROCERY STORES, TRANSIT AND PHARMACIES REMAINS

Under the emergency measures, Calgary grocery stores, public transit, shelters, shopping centres, pharmacies, casinos and the airport will remain open as usual. Offices will remain open but employees are encouraged to work from home.

Alberta Health Services/Calgary Alberta Health Services has opened 'drive-up' assessment centres so people can be tested for COVID-19. The City of Calgary declared a state of local emergency in response to the pandemic on Sunday. (Alberta Health Services/Twitter)

With schools closed, Nenshi said city officials did not have the capacity to keep people safe in publicly-operated facilities like pools, libraries and recreation centres.

"This is going to be difficult and I understand it's difficult for Calgary families," Nenshi said.

Nenshi said it's important to recognize that restaurants and retail outlets aren't being closed, and provisions are being put in place to make those spaces a little safer.

"We know that these actions are impacting local businesses and people's livelihoods in a very serious way," Nenshi said, adding that leaders at all levels of government are looking for ways to help businesses through this.

EXPLAINER: HOW THE CORONAVIRUS (SARS-COV-2) INFECTS HUMAN CELLS

SEE ALSO: Common COVID-19 myths, debunked with hard facts

The mayor acknowledged that city businesses are hurting. And he urged residents to do their part to help out.

"Citizens, you can still help local businesses through this. Buy a gift card, order delivery, make a reservation for later."

Sampson said it's not certain how long the measures will remain in place.

"This is not a sprint, it's an ultra-marathon," he said.

The mayor urged residents not to panic or stockpile, and asked them to look out for each other.

"Those who have been self-isolated or quarantined, take it very seriously," Nenshi said. "I always say the most Calgary question of all is the simple question — how can I help?"

He asked people check in on others over the phone, offer to deliver groceries or babysit, and in particular, reach out to elderly members of the community.

For a full list of suspended services, please see the City of Calgary website.

Thumbnail courtesy of Alberta Health Services.

The story was written by Sarah Rieger/CBC News and originally appeared on CBC.ca.

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