Alberta’s relaunch of its COVID-compromised economy Thursday was busy in some spots, slow in others and overshadowed by different rules for different communities.
Retailers, barber shops, hair salons, daycares and restaurants were all given the go-ahead to reopen given that the province is flattening the curve on COVID-19 infections.
But Premier Jason Kenney announced Wednesday that eateries and salons in Calgary and Brooks, to the southeast, would have to wait until May 25 because the two communities have three-quarters of the province’s active cases.
Calgarian John Gee drove just north of the city’s limits to Airdrie to get his long locks sheared for the first time in four months.
“Everything’s closed in Calgary so I came here. It’s my birthday this weekend, so I’ve got to look half decent,” Gee said with a laugh while at the fully booked Kingsview Barbershop in Airdrie.
A half-hour later, a pile of his grey hair was on the floor.
“I feel lighter, lighter. I can feel the wind on my head. It totally makes it feel more normal.”
A 15-person limit on public gatherings remains in force throughout the province and restaurants can open only at half capacity.
A number of customers also gathered at the Boston Pizza in Airdrie. Gary Jackson and three colleagues were at their regular table a minute after the restaurant opened.
“It’s not normal yet, but it will get there,” said Jackson.
“I’ve got a bunch of friends in Calgary calling me and saying, ‘What are you doing?’ I said, ‘I can’t tell you.’ Thank God for living in Airdrie.”
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi had argued that the strictest rules necessary for any given community should be applied everywhere equally. He noted there have been outbreaks in communities just outside Calgary’s city limits that aren’t subject to the slower restart.
He also said he isn’t dwelling on how late the province waited to announce different rules for Calgary and Brooks.
“Ultimately it’s not something worth barking about in a place where we’re trying to be kind and everybody’s doing the best they can.”
In Brooks, Margaret Plumtree with the local chamber of commerce said staff knew a slower rollout was a possibility, but she would have liked to have seen better communication from the United Conservative government.
“As much as the chamber and our businesses understand the need to keep everyone safe, that (announcement) was very last minute.”
There have been 1,068 COVID-19 cases in Brooks, a city of 15,000. More than 600 cases have been among workers at the JBS slaughterhouse, a major employer.
Calgary has been hit hard with cases and deaths in long-term care homes.
NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley criticized Kenney for making the delay decision Tuesday night, then waiting until late in the afternoon the next day to announce it.
She said Calgary hair salons and restaurant owners bought supplies and hired staff to prepare for their reopenings.
“I’m calling for this UCP government to reimburse any business that has incurred costs from preparing to open that they now will not be able to recover,” said Notley.
In Edmonton, business at the signature West Edmonton Mall was slow to wake from its economic slumber.
At midday, pockets of shoppers, about half wearing masks, browsed through stores, about one in five of which were open. Some stores had staff spritz customers with hand sanitizer when they walked in. Others posted signs limiting in-store shoppers to varying totals: 15, 16, 20, 22, 29.
There were new signs posted everywhere in all the primary colours of the rainbow: blue arrows on the floor to keep shoppers apart, yellow tape around every second table in the food court to keep eaters distanced and red Xs on public benches to discourage sitting.
Every few minutes, a recorded message played over the mall’s intercom system reminding shoppers to keep their distance, signing off with, “We’re all in this together.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 14, 2020
— With files from Dean Bennett in Edmonton
Bill Graveland and Lauren Krugel, The Canadian Press