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Ontario Premier Doug Ford makes an announcement declaring a state of emergency for the province, at the Ontario Legislature in Toronto on Tuesday, March 17, 2020.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia have declared states of emergency, with those provinces now banning public events of more than 50 people to curb the spread of COVID-19, but differing on whether to completely close all restaurants.

On Monday, Prince Edward Island announced a state of public health emergency. Quebec declared a public health emergency on Saturday – giving the public health officer vast powers to force quarantines and closings.

In Ontario, the escalation to a state of emergency will force all of the province’s bars and restaurants to close, except for takeout and delivery.

“We’re facing an unprecedented time in our history,” Ontario Premier Doug Ford said at Queen’s Park, urging Ontarians to think of the elderly, who are most vulnerable to the disease. “This is a decision that was not made lightly. COVID-19 constitutes a danger of major proportions.”

In Edmonton, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said the state of public health emergency is a result of a significant increase in the number of cases. Alberta confirmed 23 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the provincewide total to 97.

“It was probably inevitable, given the direction of the disease, that we would end up invoking a public health emergency," Mr. Kenney told reporters.

“We concluded it was prudent to do so, now, while we are still at the relatively early stages.”

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He said restaurants – except for buffets – coffee shops, pubs and delis can stay open, for now. But they are limited to a maximum of 50 people, or 50 per cent of their authorized capacity, whichever is lower.

Alberta schools are closed indefinitely. On Tuesday, the province prohibited Albertans from going to recreation centres, casinos, nightclubs, children’s play centres, and many other public facilities. Essential services such as grocery stores, airports and health care facilities, will remain open.

The City of Calgary, which declared a state of emergency on Sunday, issued an order on Tuesday that all travelers returning to the city from international destinations isolate themselves for two weeks. The order applies regardless of the method of travel.

B.C. announced 83 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, bringing the total to 186 cases, and three new deaths. The province now counts seven coronavirus deaths.

Provincial health officer Bonnie Henry announced the state of emergency on Tuesday, and an order to close all bars and clubs because of their inability to meet social distancing criteria. Restaurants and cafés that can meet the criteria can stay open, but Dr. Henry recommended they move to take-out or delivery only. On Monday, B.C. banned gatherings with more than 50 people.

“This declaration of an emergency enables me to be faster, more streamlined and nimble in the things we need to do right now," Dr. Henry said.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix added that the declaration means Dr. Henry can issue verbal orders with immediate effect, and compel peace officers to enforce them. As well, Mr. Dix can amend regulations without the consent of cabinet and change the Public Health Act without the consent of the legislature. Earlier in the day, the province announced that K-12 schools would close indefinitely.

In Ontario, the new orders take effect immediately and apply to all private schools, recreation centres with indoor programs, licensed day cares, places of worship and theatres and music venues. The orders last until March 31.

Ontario public health officials also said Tuesday that they had nine new confirmed positive cases of COVID-19, for a total of 186. More than 1,500 cases were listed as “under investigation.”

Mr. Ford said his emergency measures, debated late Monday night and early Tuesday morning by his cabinet, are necessary to help Ontario’s health-care system cope. The Premier said other countries, such South Korea, have enacted similar measures and blunted the worst effects of the outbreak.

But Mr. Ford also urged calm, and said grocery stores, convenience stores, pharmacies and workplaces such as offices and construction sites would continue to operate. The order does not apply to most retailers, or malls, at least for now. “This is not a provincial shutdown,” he said.

Kevin Smith, president and CEO of Toronto’s University Health Network – group of major hospitals including Princess Margaret, Toronto Western and Toronto General – applauded the Ford government’s move, saying it will change behaviour.

“It fundamentally signals to those who might still be in a bit of denial,” Dr. Smith said.

But Michael Warner, the medical director of critical care at Michael Garron Hospital in Toronto’s east end, said he and other front-line physicians were concerned the measures were too little too late to spare Toronto from the fate of Northern Italy, where COVID-19 patients have swamped hospitals.

He said allowing groups of up to 50 sends a “confusing message,” and would aid the spread of the virus. He said his department is preparing for ”combat medicine," and said gatherings of any size should be banned, malls closed and public transit restricted or all but shut down.

“What seems like Draconian today, will seem so patently obvious two days from now,” Dr. Warner said. “I think we are hours or maybe a day away from a full-on shutdown.”

The federal government is looking at powers in legislation known as the Emergencies Act, although Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland said turning to the act would be a “last resort."

With reports from Laura Stone, Toronto, and James Keller, Calgary

Q and A: What is a state of emergency and what does it mean for COVID-19?

As the governments of Ontario, B.C., Alberta and P.E.I. declare states of emergency for their jurisdictions: What does it mean?

What is a state of emergency?

Under Ontario’s Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act, cabinet can declare a state of emergency to “prevent, reduce or mitigate a danger of major proportions that could result in serious harm to persons or substantial damage to property” if the normal resources available to the government to deal with the situation may not be sufficient or may not be available without delay.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford used the phrase “major proportions” on Tuesday to describe the threat of COVID-19 as he announced the state of emergency. When approved by cabinet, a state of emergency lasts 14 days and can be renewed once before requiring a vote of the legislature.

What powers does it give the Ontario government?

The act’s powers are sweeping. Among them: The government can regulate and ban travel, evacuate areas, and – as the Premier announced Tuesday – close any place, private or public, to deal with the emergency.

The province can collect waste; appropriate, use or destroy property; procure any necessary goods or services; distribute goods; fix prices and prohibit the charging of “unconscionable prices” for necessary goods and services. It can authorize any facility, including power facilities, to operate. And it can order people to collect or disclose information relevant to the emergency. It can also issue other unspecified orders needed to deal with the emergency.

When was the last state of emergency declared in Ontario?

Then-premier Ernie Eves declared the last provincewide state of emergency in the face of the massive 2003 blackout, which left much of the eastern U.S. and Canada without power for days.

Jeff Gray and Stephanie Chambers

The spread of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 continues, with more cases diagnosed in Canada. The Globe offers the dos and don'ts to help slow or stop the spread of the virus in your community.

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