Skip to main content

Customers get their hair cut by barbers Billy Salla, right, and Ted Alkadri at Universal Barber Shop as businesses reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic in Edmonton on May 14, 2020. Calgary remains under tighter economic and social restrictions compared with the rest of the province.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Alberta’s largest city, which remains under tighter economic and social restrictions compared with the rest of the province because of the outsized number of people infected with the coronavirus, will crack down on people flouting physical-distancing rules during Canada’s unofficial start of summer.

Tom Sampson, Calgary’s emergency management agency chief, said the city has scheduled extra peace officers to work over the May long weekend, and their tolerance for breaking the rules will be thin. Calgarians, Mr. Sampson noted, have had more than 70 days to adjust to laws designed to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. People who violate the rules should expect consequences rather than lectures.

“We will be stepping up the enforcement this weekend,” Mr. Sampson told reporters Thursday. Peace officers, who can issue fines, will be "dealing with those who refuse, after all this time, to maintain the physical distancing.”

The fine for violating a public health order is $1,200.

Kenney delays part of economic relaunch in Calgary, Brooks as rest of province reopens

Cargill employee dies of COVID-19 after month-long hospitalization

The warning came a day after the provincial government said Calgary, unlike the rest of the province, will have to wait until May 25 before people can dine in a restaurant, sit in a pub or get a haircut in the city. Alberta also placed Brooks, a city of about 15,000 people, on the slower schedule because it is another COVID-19 hotspot.

Premier Jason Kenney unveiled the dual-track plan late Wednesday afternoon, less than a day before the first stage of the relaunch was expected to begin.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who pushed for a slow approach in Calgary, encouraged residents to order takeout from local restaurants, which may have stocked up on food expecting that the government would allow them to open their doors Thursday.

Retailers such as furniture shops and clothing stores in Calgary and Brooks were permitted to open Thursday, alongside competitors elsewhere in the province. But store owners, restaurants and customers are moving cautiously across the province.

Sandip Lalli, president of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, said many businesses in the city had indicated they weren’t ready to open on Thursday anyway, but there were some that had done the work and spent money to ensure they were ready. She said the economic relaunch should be more “systematic” than waiting until the afternoon before to announce a decision.

“Marketing was there, [personal protective equipment] was there, they had customers lined up, and so for them it felt like the rug getting pulled out from under them,” she said.

“The fact that these decisions are coming out the way they are coming out is challenging.”

Still, Ms. Lalli said public health must be the top priority as the province decides how to reopen the economy.

Sean Murphy founded Evoolution, which sells fancy olive oil and vinegars in six stores in Alberta. He is leaving it up to local managers to decide when to reopen the stores, in part because one key variable is the availability of staff. The chain, which employs around 50-60 people, is reluctant to set hard deadlines for itself because the unpredictable pandemic means restrictions could be in constant flux.

“We can only plan a few weeks at a time,” Mr. Murphy said.

Shopping centres across the country are making changes to stem the spread of the coronavirus. Ivanhoé Cambridge, which controls major shopping centres in Alberta, such as CrossIron Mills and Market Mall in Calgary and Southgate Centre in Edmonton, has placed signs on the floors to direct foot traffic, hired extra security guards to ensure physical distancing, removed furniture in some common areas to create more space and closed some play areas. It has also suspended stroller and wheelchair rentals, according to Katherine Roux Groleau, a spokeswoman for the firm.

Access to malls is also changing. Market Mall, according to Mr. Murphy, has designated one of its entrances exclusively to curbside delivery so retailers could serve customers without people flooding the stores.

Kerri Stewart visited West Edmonton Mall shortly after it opened on Thursday, mostly out of curiosity. She said it was relatively quiet and she was surprised to see most of the stores still closed.

The mall had put up signs telling people where to walk and to keep a distance from staff and other shoppers. Ms. Stewart said she felt safe.

“For the most part, it was pretty quiet,” she said, adding that the economic shutdowns have been tough. “It’s been weird, because I actually do a fair bit of shopping. For me, I was happy just to be able to walk around.”

Alberta is home to Canada’s two largest single-site COVID-19 outbreaks, which are driving the relaunch exceptions for Calgary and Brooks. Nearly 1,000 employees at Cargill Ltd.'s meat-processing plant in High River were infected with the virus, and hundreds of those people live in Calgary. In Brooks, JBS Canada’s meat-processing plant is linked to hundreds of infected Albertans.

Sign up for the Coronavirus Update newsletter to read the day’s essential coronavirus news, features and explainers written by Globe reporters and editors.