A University of Calgary economist is calling on the province to implement stricter COVID-19 measures to reduce the damage to Alberta’s economy in the long run.
On Nov. 12 the province announced two weeks of limited measures to help stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, including suspending indoor team sports in some regions and instituting further restrictions on restaurants and bars.
“Those are kind of symbolic,” said Aidan Hollis a professor of economics at the University of Calgary, specializing in pharmaceutical markets.
“There’s an opportunity to maybe reduce a little bit of transmission and it’s a signal to the population. I don’t think it will have been effective and it’s not really telling people you need to be very careful.”
Hollis admits shutting down business will have harmful affects on some businesses and workers, but he said the province still must impose more restrictions.
“The question is do we want to do that earlier or later? If we wait until later, it’s going to have to be more restrictions and for longer; that is going to harm the economy even worse and it will harm those individual workers even more,” Hollis said.
“Now is the time to begin looking at what can we do to stop this thing from getting out of control.”
Hollis said a partial shutdown is about more than just reducing the spread of the virus — it’s about making people feel safer to go out in the long run.
“No one is going to look in the future at a province that had thousands of deaths and say, ‘Good job — you didn’t take a stronger stand and you were able to keep some restaurants open,’” he said.
Some Albertans are arguing for exemptions under the province’s two weeks of limited restrictions.
“I do feel that these activities are essential for the health and well-being of children and it’s essential for us to keep these small businesses running as well,” said Mandi Sutherland, a ballet examiner with the Royal Academy of Dance.
“You can’t put a number or a price on the lack of consumer confidence that then flows from those closures.”
Sutherland has been in talks with several Alberta ministers about getting exemptions for dance studios. She said they are able to operate with a maximum of five people in a room and must keep activities “low exertion.”
“Dance studios have followed the exact same protocols for COVID and prevention of transmission as the school system. So if it’s safe for them (children) to be in school, it’s safe for them to be in dance studios,” Sutherland said.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said on Friday that it’s been challenging to get the right balance between stopping the spread, while maintaining jobs and activities.
“Of course, I am concerned the measures that we have put in place over the past several months may have somewhat slowed the growth but they have not bent the curve as much as we need to,” Hinshaw said.
Hinshaw said she’s taken many factors into consideration when making her recommendations.
“It has been challenging to consider what the right balance is and what that right suite of measures would be to be able to bring down COVID-19 while maintaining the mental health benefits of activity and socialization, the benefits of being employed, the benefits of being able to have physical activity.”
Hinshaw said she wanted to be able to give as much opportunity as possible to try to control the pandemic with measures that had the minimum impacts on people’s health in other ways.
Hollis said a three week limited closure could still give businesses a chance to be open for some Christmas revenue but adds it needs to come with appropriate compensation for workers and businesses.
Hollis is concerned about the challenges faced by some people who are working in places where the virus may be at risk of spreading.
“From an economic perspective that’s a very tough problem — when you have to put yourself at risk in order to make money because you need that to keep your family afloat,” he said.
“The problem of just saying, ‘You are on your own right now and we are not going to have any kind of mandatory shut down of business, even though it’s pretty risky for you and it’s increasing infections in the general population,’ that’s pretty brutal.”
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