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Alberta COVID-19 cases jump as province launches economic aid, daycare plan


EDMONTON — Alberta announced its biggest one-day jump in COVID-19 cases Friday as the government promised further measures to help the homeless and parents working on the front lines of the pandemic.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, said there are 49 new cases, bringing the total in the province to 195. Five people are in intensive care.

She announced a day earlier the first death in Alberta linked to the novel coronavirus.

On Friday, she said there were no new deaths and that three people who had COVID-19, the disease linked to the virus, no longer have it.

"The good news is we're now seeing numbers of Albertans who have recovered from COVID-19," Hinshaw said.

Alberta has completed more than 17,000 tests for the virus — the highest number of tests per capita in Canada, she said.

The province has declared a public health emergency, banned gatherings of more than 50 people and shuttered schools, daycares and recreation facilities. It has also put hard limits on the number of people who can go to restaurants.

Premier Jason Kenney's government announced more measures on multiple fronts Friday to further contain the spread of the virus and help those financially impacted.

There are now tighter limits on visits to seniors facilities. Visits had previously been limited to close family members and friends. Now it will be limited to one essential visitor who must undergo medical screening before entering.

The province will also be working with cities to deliver more help for the homeless during the crisis. There will be extra cash and staff to set up overflow homeless shelters and places for people who need to self-isolate.

Kenney also announced that starting next week, select child care centres will be re-opened to provide help for essential workers, starting with health-care staff.

There will a maximum of 30 children and staff per centre, with strict health-care rules. Children of other essential workers, such as police, will be added in the next phase.

"Parents will be notified through their employer if they qualify to send their kids to newly reopened centres," said Kenney.

To help Alberta's oil and gas industry, Kenney said the province is waiving the levy on the industry for the Alberta Energy Regulator, providing an estimated $113 million in savings. There will also be a one-year extension on mineral agreements due to expire this year.

In education, all Grade 12 diploma exams have been cancelled, as are all Grade 6 and 9 provincial achievement tests.

The government, with the support of the Opposition NDP, introduced and passed in one sitting changes to better co-ordinate provincial and municipal roles and rules in delivering aid.

Opposition Leader Rachel Notley renewed her call for Kenney to pass legislation to stop landlords from evicting tenants who don't pay rent come April 1.

Kenney said he would consider it, but noted some landlords have promised they won't evict. He also suggested there could be unintended consequences of such a broad law, because people still may need to be evicted for other reasons, such as criminal activity.

In health care, Kenney said Alberta has 477 adult critical care ventilators, with 50 more ordered. There are also 78 pediatric critical care ventilators

Alberta is working with other provinces to obtain more ventilators, Kenney said.

"We don't think we'll need them, but in an excess of caution we'll participate in that program."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 20, 2020

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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