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Alberta wants no big events, but keeps schools open during outbreak


EDMONTON — Alberta's chief medical officer is urging all events with more than 250 people be cancelled immediately to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw says schools and daycares can stay open for now, as long as they ensure there aren't 250 people or more in the same room at any time.

She also recommends that Albertans not travel outside Canada. And anyone returning to the province from outside the country should self isolate for 14 days.

"There is a window of opportunity for Alberta to slow the spread of the virus and thereby protect the health of Albertans," Hinshaw told a news conference Thursday.

"These are extraordinary circumstances and our public health measures must rise to the challenge we face."

The new measures were announced as the province confirmed four more cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 23. All cases are travel-related.

One of the new cases involves a two-year-old who returned home to Calgary after a family vacation in Florida. The child attended a Calgary daycare before testing positive, and that centre has temporarily closed. Families of children there have been told to self-isolate until March 20.

Hinshaw said the infected toddler is expected to make a full recovery.

The other new cases are adults from Calgary: a woman in her 70s, one woman in her 30s and a man in his 50s.

Also in Calgary, The Garage Sports Bar said it has temporarily closed its doors because an employee who had travelled to Frankfurt had tested positive for the disease. All bar staff have also gone into 14 days of self-isolation.

Hinshaw said the recommendation to cancel big events does not extend to places of worship, grocery stores, airports or shopping centres.

She also urged cancellation of any event with more than 50 attendees that include international participants or other high-risk groups like seniors.

The City of Edmonton later announced that it will cancel all mass-gatherings. The city's Jubilee Auditoria is also to be temporarily closed.

The province is still weighing the impacts of closing schools, Hinshaw said.

"We know that the day-to-day routine of families would be significantly disrupted if we did close schools."

Other major events were also cancelled Thursday.

The National Hockey League announced it was pausing its season, cancelling games for the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames.

The Alberta legislature also said it is halting tours and events and restricting general public access to the building.

Politicians are to return to the legislature Monday after a week-long break.

— With files from Lauren Krugel and Bill Graveland in Calgary

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 12, 2020

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press