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Alberta to relaunch economy, but delays in Calgary and Brooks

CALGARY — Alberta will allow stores, restaurants, daycares, and hair salons to reopen across much of the province Thursday, but Calgary and Brooks will have to wait a little longer for some of those services.

Premier Jason Kenney said while Alberta's COVID-19 case numbers have been decreasing, Calgary and Brooks are home to three-quarters of active cases and caution is needed. 

Retail stores can still open as planned, but Kenney said hair cutting services and restaurant dining rooms will have to wait until May 25 — just to be sure that there isn't a renewed spike in cases.

"It's better to be safe than sorry," Kenney said Wednesday.

"No one should suggest that Calgary or Brooks are in any way unsafe — that would be wrong."

Kenney said the number of active COVID-19 cases in Calgary is 74 per 100,000 people compared with 29 per 100,000 provincewide.

"So the risk is low for Albertans wherever they live."

Nathan Newman was scrambling to reopen his two downtown Calgary establishments — The Derrick Gin Mill & Kitchen and Untitled Champagne Lounge — when he found out about the delay Wednesday afternoon.

"We stopped in our tracks when we heard the news."

Customers had been hankering for The Derrick's signature Montreal smoked meat sandwich, so Newman put in a big order for beef ahead of the expected reopening.  

"There's definitely going to be a cost associated with us not being able to open."

He said he was disappointed there wasn't more notice.  

"Maybe I jumped the gun. I'm not sure. But I was under the impression that the government essentially said 'Get ready. We're going.' "

Next door, Laurel O'Leary with Escoba Bistro & Wine Bar had toyed with the idea of reopening to sit-in diners starting Thursday, but decided it was too risky given the costs of potentially having to shut down again.

"I was a little bit relieved to see everything set back, which is probably not your common reaction in Calgary, and I'm OK being an oddball," she said.

"I think it was probably pretty irresponsible of the government to allow it to go this far before calling it, but I think it is the right move."

There will still be restrictions on the business that are being allowed to reopen across the province. Restaurants can only open at half capacity. The 15-person limit on public gatherings remains in force.

Calgary is Alberta's largest city, while Brooks, in the province's southeast, has a population of about 15,000. It's home to the JBS slaughterhouse, where there has been a large outbreak of COVID-19.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said "it's a challenging decision" to put the extra limits on only two communities.

But she said they're guided by situations such as one in Alabama, which went from low case numbers to a spike within a week of reopening parts of its economy.

Alberta has 1,211 active cases of COVID-19. Seventy people are hospitalized and 11 of them are in intensive care.

Kenney said if the first stage of reopening goes well, the next phase — which includes movie theatres and spas — could go ahead on June 19.

Despite getting the green light to reopen, some businesses say they'll wait.

ReWorks Upcycle Shop in Calgary has been selling sustainable gifts and home decor during the COVID-19 pandemic through online orders and curbside pickup.

Owner Solita Works said she misses chatting with customers face to face, but does not feel it's safe yet to open.

"It would be a death blow to a little business like mine if I were to get infected or if one of my customers were and my shop was the source. I really don't want to be responsible for that," she said.

Susan Hare, who co-owns Owl's Nest Books in Calgary, is holding off for at least a week. The shop has been doing brisk business taking phone, email and online orders for delivery or curbside pickup.

"We just don't feel prepared right now to handle in-person customers and we need the weekend to prepare and get everything organized for that."

One of the world's largest indoor shopping centres, West Edmonton Mall, plans to reopen all entrances to customers once the first relaunch phase starts. Some businesses at the mall had previously been offering curbside pickup.

There will be dedicated doors to enter and exit, and interior doors will be kept open to reduce surfaces being touched.

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

— With files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton

Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press