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Alberta

Calgary Centre gets higher COVID classification amid condo outbreak

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CALGARY — The number of active COVID-19 cases in a Calgary highrise condo building has prompted provincial officials to change the area’s regional classification on the weekend from “open” to “watch.”

According to Alberta Health, more than 60,000 people live in Calgary Centre and there are 34 active cases there — all of which spokeswoman Karin Campbell says are associated with Verve Condominiums.

According to Alberta Health’s website, a watch is issued when there are at least 10 active cases in a region and there are more than 50 active cases per 100,000 people, and it says Calgary Centre is just over that at 51.4 cases.

It says that during a watch, the province is “monitoring the risk and discussing with local governments and other community leaders the possible need for additional health measures.”

The next level up is enhanced, where “risk levels require enhanced public health measures to control the spread.”

Campbell says there have been 45 cases associated with the condo building and that 11 of them have recovered.

Doctor Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, said last week that the situation is an example of how easily the illness can spread from one person to many if given the opportunity.

Alberta reported 39 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday but no new deaths. There are 216 active cases in the Calgary zone.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 28, 2020.

The Canadian Press

Alberta

As postponed NHL season resumes, some fans say the lure of parties will be strong

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EDMONTON — As hockey fans gear up for a truncated season to begin next month, some in Canada’s two “hub cities” say the temptation to celebrate — and flout physical distancing guidelines — may prove too great.

“I can’t say no to a good time,” said Edmonton Oilers fan Jeet Jermana. “I’d be hard-pressed not to jump into a big party.”

On Friday, the NHL board of governors and NHL Players’ Association said they had ratified the return-to-play plan, paving the way for the league to resume its pandemic-hit season later this summer.

Toronto and Edmonton were also officially unveiled as hub cities where all games will be played, beginning Aug. 1. Training camps start Monday in the 24 cities with teams still in the running for the Stanley Cup, including six in Canada.

In 2017, when the Oilers nearly advanced to the Western Conference final, Jermana was among the thousands of fans who partied in Ford Hall at Rogers Place arena and in bars along the popular Whyte Avenue district.  

But with COVID-19 this year, where teams will play in empty arenas, Jermana said he’ll likely watch more games at home, maybe with just a few friends.

That is, he said, until the Oilers advance and he and other fans won’t be able to resist going out.

“Once it becomes the ‘real playoffs’ I think more and more the momentum will grab,” he said.

Matt Black of Hotel X Toronto, located west of the city centre where multiple media outlets have reported that several teams will be based, said the prospect of any accommodation for celebratory fan gatherings, even outdoors, seems unlikely.

Nevertheless, Black said he expects citywide excitement will be palpable, even with empty arenas.

“You look back to those scenes of Jurassic Park and Maple Leaf Square and all of that … it would be great for people to be able to get together again but you just need to make sure that you’re doing it in a safe manner,” said Black.

The players themselves aren’t to have any contact with the general public.

Dr. Vinita Dubey, Toronto’s associate medical health officer, said in an emailed statement that players and staff arriving from abroad will also have to serve a modified 14-day quarantine as well as undergo rigorous screening and daily testing protocols, wear masks in indoor settings, physically distance and wash hands often.

An Edmonton police spokesperson said the service wouldn’t be able to comment over the weekend on what sorts of preparations they might make for crowds when the season resumes.

Geoff Grimble with the City of Edmonton said the city’s civic events management team would likely discuss the issue during a scheduled meeting on Monday.

“The City of Edmonton’s first priority is public safety and we’ll continue to follow the advice and requirements of the Chief Medical Officer of Health to ensure fans, players, coaches and staff remain healthy,” Grimble said.

Oilers fan Brendan McLeod admitted he may be lured to a street celebration when — not if — his team advances, but said he still wants to maintain physical distancing.

“We have to get through this together or else it’s not going to change,” said McLeod.

But Shadi Merhej, who said he enjoys both hockey and the Oilers, noted the sport doesn’t have quite as strong attraction for him in the summer.

“It’s daylight ’til 11 o’clock. You don’t want to spend half your day watching hockey,” Merhej explained.

“I’d rather go for a bike ride, or rollerblade or golf.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 13, 2020.

—With files from Cassandra Szklarski in Toronto

Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press

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Alberta

N.W.T. ignored in Alberta monitoring suspension despite agreement: leaked emails

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EDMONTON — Alberta suspended environmental monitoring for oilsands companies without notifying the Northwest Territories, despite a legally binding agreement to do so.

The omission is revealed in a series of emails between the two governments obtained by The Canadian Press.

“We have been made aware … that the Alberta Energy Regulator has indefinitely suspended several environmental monitoring requirements for major oilsands producers,” wrote Erin Kelly, the N.W.T.’s deputy environment minister to her Alberta counterpart.

“Do you have any information that can be shared about this?”

The May 15 email was written more than a week after Alberta’s regulator suspended a wide array of monitoring over what it said were public-health concerns raised by the COVID-19 pandemic. Kelly said her government learned about the move from news reports.

Ten days later, Kelly had not received a response.

“This is concerning to many N.W.T. residents, who still maintain subsistence lifestyles,” she wrote May 25.

“With COVID-19 we have even more residents relying on food harvested from the land and it is almost certain that concerns related to reduced monitoring upstream will be brought up during (the upcoming legislative) session.”

Monitoring is expected to resume Wednesday.

The N.W.T. is downstream from the oilsands and in 2015 signed an agreement with Alberta that spelled out clear responsibilities on information-sharing, notification and consultation for cross-boundary waters.

In her second email, Kelly points to that deal.

“The (territory) has not been informed of or discussed new changes to monitoring as per (the agreement). I have yet to receive a response to my last email.”

An Alberta Environment and Parks email shows Kelly’s second note provoked an “urgent” request within the department for a response to her concerns.

In answer to a request for an explanation for the lack of consultation, Alberta’s United Conservative government provided a one-sentence email.

“There have been ongoing discussions and information-sharing with the N.W.T. on the status of ambient water quality monitoring at sites referenced in the Alberta-N.W.T. Bilateral Agreement throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, starting in March,” wrote Alberta Environment spokesman John Muir.

Joslyn Oosenbrug, spokeswoman for the N.W.T. Environment Department, said several meetings were held in June to address the territory’s concerns.

“Alberta has committed to sharing information and discussing any changes to monitoring,” she wrote in an email. “Communication is ongoing, and includes emails and letters exchanged at the deputy minister and ministerial level.”

However, the territory wants a stronger voice in managing water flowing into its land. It wants a seat on several committees that determine how waters will be monitored “to ensure downstream interests are represented,” Oosenbrug wrote.

Marlin Schmidt, environment critic for Alberta’s Opposition New Democrats, said the snub showed a “lack of respect.”

“It’s really disappointing to me to see the government of Alberta is taking its relationship with other Canadians so lightly right now,” he said.

“When our government is complaining about the poor treatment that we’re allegedly getting from other Canadians, we should be treating (them) with the respect with which we expect to be treated.”

The N.W.T. isn’t the only interested group that wasn’t consulted about the suspensions. First Nations in the oilsands area, environmental groups, Alberta’s chief scientist and the scientific consultants who perform monitoring work all say they were left out of the decision.

The government has said the move was made in response to concerns from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers about operators not being able to meet certain monitoring requirements while complying with COVID-19 orders.

Alberta has yet to release work plans or budget for this year’s field season of a joint federal-provincial program responsible for environmental monitoring outside various oilsands leases. Industry, which funds the efforts, has been lobbying heavily for a less extensive and cheaper plan.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 13, 2020

— Follow @row1960 on Twitter

Bob Weber, The Canadian Press

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