10 Canadian provinces, three territories enact emergency scenarios due to COVID-19

A security guard opens the door for a person entering a COVID-19 assessment facility, Saturday, March 14, 2020 in Ottawa. For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms. For some it can cause more severe illness, especially in older adults and people with existing health problems. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press via AP)

As the number of cases of coronavirus continues to rise in Canada, several provinces and cities across the country are enforcing tougher measures in an effort to slow the spread.

Provinces and territories under emergency advisories:

  • Alberta (public health emergency)

  • British Columbia (state of emergency, public health emergency)

  • Newfoundland and Labrador (public health emergency)

  • Northwest Territories (public health emergency)

  • Nunavut (public health emergency)

  • Ontario (state of emergency)

  • Quebec (public health emergency)

  • Prince Edward Island (public health emergency)

  • Saskatchewan (state of emergency)

  • Yukon (public health emergency)

  • Manitoba (state of emergency)

  • New Brunswick (state of emergency)

  • Nova Scotia (state of emergency)

What’s the difference between a state of emergency and a public health emergency?

A state of emergency can be declared by a federal, provincial, or municipal government if they believe they need to take immediate, temporary and extraordinary measures in the interest of public safety. These can be enacted during times of war, natural disasters, major accidents or disease outbreaks.

A public health emergency is declared using the province or territory’s Public Health Act, which gives a variable level of authority (depending on the province) to the chief public health official. Depending on what powers the province needs will determine which declaration they use. It’s entirely dependent on what powers are associated with that province or territory’s health or state of emergency legislation.

Nova Scotia becomes last province to declare state of emergency

Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health, declared a province-wide state of emergency, effective 6 a.m. on Mar. 23.

Any resident who has travelled outside of Nova Scotia must self-isolate for 14 days. The only exemptions are for essential services such as trucking and healthcare.

There will be border controls at every land, sea and air entry point.

Gatherings are limited to no more than five people, and police are now authorized to enforce orders related to self-isolation and social distancing, and can issue summary offence tickets for people who are not adhering to those orders.

Manitoba, New Brunswick declare states of emergency

As of the COVID-19 pandemic continues, both Manitoba and New Brunswick have decided to enact a state of emergency for their respective provinces. Manitoba’s Premier Brian Pallister said the decision was made to protect citizens, with the province diagnosing 17 cases as of March 19. The measures will limit public gatherings of no more than 50 people, which includes places such as bars, restaurants and places of worship.

New Brunswick’s Premier Blaine Higgs made the same decision a day earlier, while ordering all public schools, universities and colleges to close, as well non-essential retail stores.

Eight new cases prompts state of emergency in Saskatchewan

Much like other provinces, Saskatchewan enacted broader powers on Wednesday in the interest of public health. Gatherings over 50 people are not permitted, and restaurants and bars must limit seating to 50 per cent of capacity or 50 people, whichever is lesser. Gyms, fitness centres, casinos and bingo halls are closed, and bills for crown-owned utilities will be deferred without interest for six months. It is also recommended that residents do not travel outside the province.

Nunavut follows other territories, declaring public health emergency

While there are no confirmed cases in any of the territories of COVID-19, Nunavut became the third province to declare an emergency situation on Wednesday. The public health emergency declaration expands the powers of the territory’s chief medical officer to include: authorizing qualified people to render specific aid; enter into an agreement for services with any agency of the federal or another provincial/territorial government; get and distribute medical supplies and aid to any part of Nunavut, order travel restrictions to or from the territory, and take any other measures they deem medically necessary for the sake of public health.

State of emergency declared in B.C.

British Columbia declared a provincial state of emergency on Wednesday, which would allow the province to support provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry in any sweeping measures she may recommend for the safety of the province. Public safety minister Mike Farnsworth said the state of emergency ensures B.C. has access to a critical supply chain to ensure adequate food and supplies. A public health emergency was declared by B.C. on Tuesday. This order limits gatherings to no more than 50 people, and orders the closure of bars, pubs, night clubs and restaurants to close if they are unable to maintain social distancing of one to two metres, or offer only delivery or take out.

Newfoundland and Labrador call public health emergency

Newfoundland and Labrador announced on Wednesday that it would enter a state of public health emergency, declaring that gatherings of 50 people or more are no longer permitted. Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, the province’s chief medical officer of health, also said that certain businesses would be forced to close, including gyms, cinemas, arenas and bars.

Yukon, Northwest Territories declare health emergencies

Yukon also declared a health emergency on Wednesday, although at the time of publishing there were no recorded cases of COVID-19 in the territory. Schools have been ordered to close until April 15, and public recreation facilities will be shut. There will also be a restriction on hospital visits.

The Northwest Territories also declared an emergency scenario, where there are also no confirmed cases of COVID-19. The declaration was made to allow chief public health officer Dr. Kami Kandola to make swift decisions in the interest of public health as needed. Kandola said on Tuesday that there should be no gatherings of more than 50 people. Schools are not yet closed.

“Remember: our best defense against this virus is each other,” Kandola said. “If you’re sick, stay home, avoid contact with others, and call your local public health or healthcare centre. Wash your hands — a lot. Keep at least two metres between yourself and others.”

Alberta enters public health emergency to discourage public gatherings

Alberta announced on Tuesday that it would be invoking specific powers and restrictions. This includes prohibiting gatherings of more than 50 people. Restaurants and bars are limited to less than 50 people or less than 50 per cent their capacity, whichever number is lower. Residents are prohibited from visiting public recreation centres, casinos, bingo halls, bars, nightclubs, fitness centres, arenas, museums, and indoor children's play centres. 

Essential services, including grocery stores, airports, homeless shelters, soup kitchens and the Alberta legislature will all remain open.

State of emergency declared in Ontario

Earlier on Tuesday, Premier Doug Ford declared a state of emergency for the province, prohibiting all organized public gatherings of more than 50 people until March 31. This includes events like parades and services at places of worship.

A state of emergency grants the premier special capacity to order the closure of public and private facilities, as well as restrict set prices for goods, to inhibit price gouging. It also gives the premier the power to restrict personal travel.

In addition to the ban of public events, many facilities in Ontario will be forced to close. These include indoor community centres, libraries, daycares, private schools, theatres, music venues, and bars and restaurants, with the exception of those that offer take-out or delivery services. For the time being, public transit remains open, as well as office buildings and shopping malls.

The premier also announced the introduction of  a COVID-19 Emergency Relief Package of just over $304 million. The funding will be spent on more hospital beds, assessment centres and medical supplies. It will also ensure resources for northern, rural and remote communities.

Calgary first city to declare state of local emergency

While Ontario is the first province to declare a state of emergency, Calgary was the first city in the country to declare a state of local emergency in response to continuing climb in numbers of COVID-19. On Sunday, Mayor Naheed Nenshi announced that all city-run recreational centres, pools, arenas, partner facilities like YMCAs and city library branches would be shuttered for the foreseeable future. The following day, Red Deer and Leduc announced a state of local emergency, closing all community, cultural and performing arts centres. In Red Deer, City Hall and other office buildings will remain open for now.

Quebec enforces legislative tool for first time

Quebec announced on Saturday it would invoke the Public Health Act, a section in the legislature relating to public health emergencies. It’s the first time in the province’s history that this tool has been enacted. 

On Sunday, the province furthered restrictions on public places, ordering the closures of most recreational facilities, including bars, clubs and concert halls, in an effort to prevent the escalation of COVID-19. Schools and universities have also closed for the time being, while all sporting teams were forced to pause their seasons. While restaurants will remain open,  Premier François Legault instructed that they not serve more than 50 per cent of capacity.

P.E.I. follows similar measures as Quebec

In P.E.I., Premier Dennis King followed similar measures as Quebec, in announcing a public health emergency, under the Public Health Act. Under the act, the Chief Public Health Officer has the power to: 

  • order Islanders to refrain from attending any public gatherings;

  • align resources to where they are needed most; and

  • manage hospitals and other health care facilities and ambulance services. 

The premier also announced funding for a contingency plan to support workers, small business and self-employed workers affected by COVID-19 in the province.