Calgary mayor says ‘smart restrictions’ vital to fight spiking COVID-19 cases

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi says rapidly rising coronavirus case counts are driving home the importance of recognizing it is “smart restrictions” — not just any restrictions — that will help fight the spread of the virus in Canadian communities.

In an interview with The West Block’s Mercedes Stephenson, Nenshi said that while he’s been vocal in calling for action in the province to crack down on the spread, those measures need to make sense and be communicated clearly to the public.

Read more: Some businesses feel singled out as Alberta brings in stricter COVID-19 measures

He said recent decisions such as opening up casino gambling while shutting down team sports, including for children, have left many in his community confused about the reasoning behind them.

“I believe there should be smart restrictions. Maybe some of the ones that are put in place can be lifted and they can be replaced with other ones, but we really need to go to where the source is spreading,” he said. 

“We’ve got to really be able to justify every one of these restrictions and make sure they’re ones that make sense.”

Alberta last week rolled out a two-week ban on team sports and group fitness classes and put curfews in place on liquor sales in the province, even as casinos remain open.

Read more: Table games at Alberta casinos can re-open with COVID-19 safety measures

Part of the problem, Nenshi said, is that the province’s contact tracers are overwhelmed by rising cases and that makes it difficult to track where the majority of infections are actually coming from.

“The restrictions, I think for a lot of Calgarians, feel a bit random,” he said.

“What we have to do is look at evidence from other jurisdictions of where spread is really happening and start to crack down on that instead of ad hoc restrictions. If we don’t do that, then there will be no way to prevent a full lockdown, and nobody wants that.”

Click to play video 'Alberta announces new targeted COVID-19 restrictions as cases continue to rise' 5:30 Alberta announces new targeted COVID-19 restrictions as cases continue to rise

Alberta announces new targeted COVID-19 restrictions as cases continue to rise

Alberta doctors have issued a growing chorus of warnings that hospitals and intensive care units will soon hit capacity without strict measures put in place to crack down.

The province has been reporting nearly 900 new cases per day, and Premier Jason Kenney warned in rolling out the latest measures that they may be their last chance to avoid a bigger lockdown.

“This two-week push is, I believe, our last chance to avoid more restrictive measures that I and most Albertans desperately want to avoid,” Kenney said.

Nenshi said while some might look at numbers suggesting hospitals are below 70 per cent capacity and brush off the calls for action, doing so ignores the proven fact that coronavirus growth is exponential.

That means it multiplies quickly, leading to the situation rapidly getting out of hand.

“People go, ‘Well, we’re only at 62 per cent utilization of ICU beds — we’ve got tons of room,’” he said.

“Not realizing that exponential growth means that to go from 50 per cent to 100 per cent is just one step. You can do that in a week, given that we’re doubling every week here now.”

Read more: Alberta is ‘past personal responsibility,’ needs strict measures, sociologist says

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urged provinces last week to “act now” to clamp down on the spread of the virus, which is raging throughout the country with 5,000 new cases reported on Thursday.

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says the country is on track to see new daily cases hit 10,000 by the beginning of December unless people make significant changes.

Nenshi said he’s glad to see more provinces acknowledging that tamping down on the spread is not a matter of choosing between the economy and public health, and that they actually work together.

“I’m glad that people are finally seeing how important this is,” he said. “I kind of reject the current argument that this is about the economy or public health, because if you don’t have public health, you don’t have an economy — everything will shut down anyway.”

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