“It’s a little strange for a tourism community to say it’s time to stay away, but we have to show leadership in our community by the way we communicate,” said Councilor Peter Poole. .
BANFF – The Town of Banff asks visitors to stay away from Banff National Park until the end of the May long weekend, as the community and the rest of the province fight to contain the peak of COVID -19.
In the absence of a provincial travel ban, the city council refrained from putting in place controls to divert tourists, but unanimously decided to actively discourage visits, while asking residents to stay at home. them.
Council also hopes that Parks Canada and Banff and Lake Louise Tourism will do the same in any joint communication effort.
“It’s a little strange for a tourism community to say it’s time to stay away, but we have to show leadership in our community by the way we communicate,” said Councilor Peter Poole. , who introduced the motion after a two-hour interview. camera session at a special reunion meeting on Tuesday (May 4).
“Personally, I wanted the Prime Minister to impose travel restrictions here in Alberta like there are in British Columbia and like there are in the Maritimes because the virus mix is spreading it.
Prime Minister Jason Kenney introduced tougher public health measures on May 4 to keep the healthcare system from being overwhelmed, with hospitalizations reaching 671, including 150 in intensive care units.
The province reported 1,743 new cases of COVID-19 on May 4, bringing the total number of active cases to 23,623, the highest total since the pandemic began 14 months ago. Alberta has the highest case rate in Canada. Premier Kenney said the stricter restrictions, which include moving schools online, closing more businesses and limiting outdoor gatherings to five people, are justified to “prevent a disaster from happening. happen in our hospitals ”.
“The arrival of highly transmissible variants of COVID in Alberta is putting real pressure on our health care system,” he said.
Banff National Park, which includes the Banff and Lake Louise townsite, remains a hotspot of COVID-19, with 104 active cases and a per capita case rate of 773 per 100,000 as of May 4.
This is down from 1,200 cases per 100,000 at the end of April, when Banff had the most cases per capita in the province. There were 265 new cases diagnosed in April alone and 16 new cases in the first three days of May.
Mayor Karen Sorensen supported the decision to actively discourage visitors from coming to Banff.
“The province of Alberta is a very bad fit for COVID right now,” she said.
“It is in the best interests of this entire province that people stay at home. This is what we need to do as residents and this is what we expect from our potential visitors. “
Alberta Health Services provided the town of Banff with provincial contact tracing data on about 300 cases in the Banff townsite from March 1 to the end of April – a breakdown identifying the main source of infection.
Data shows that 25% of COVID-19 cases were the result of exposure in the workplace, mainly in restaurants and hotels, and an additional 25% were linked to collective housing.
Outdoor and indoor social gatherings accounted for about 12 percent of positive cases, 8 percent were linked to the spread of single-family households, and 5 percent were classified as other, which included interprovincial spread. There was no clear link to a known case or multiple exposures in the remaining 25 percent of cases.
Coun. Poole said it was important information for decision making.
“The idea that 50% of cases in the last two months have come from workplaces – hotels and restaurants – as well as places of assembly leads me to think that we need to communicate about the severity of the spread of the virus in our community, ”he said.
As cases began to climb in Banff in April, many Banff residents, including local doctors, have raised various concerns, including the continued visit to the national park during the third wave of the pandemic.
Longtime resident Steve Michel called on council to immediately introduce controls and stop communicating that visitors are welcome now, saying recreational tourism is not essential travel as defined by many. other jurisdictions.
“We need to stop producing media lines that say things like ‘at the moment people can still visit Banff’, or ‘we recognize that people may view coming to the mountains as a trip essential for their sanity'” , Michel said during a board meeting on Monday, May 3. “Visiting Banff now is not essential.”
Michel said whenever the COVID-19 situation starts to improve – like after the last wave in November when Banff hit its all-time high of 1,386 cases per 100,000 – “we just take our foot off the gas and it all comes back. . “
“I really think we have to have a full breaker… we just have to master it or once and for all,” he said.
Mayor Sorensen said she was happy to see Banff’s case count declined over the past few days, but warned that could change at any time as new cases continue to be diagnosed.
“We have people recovering and that lowers our total number of cases; however, based on the filters from the province, we are still a hotspot, ”she said.
As the province announces the mass vaccination of residents of Banff and Lake, including those between the ages of 18 and 39, Mayor Sorensen sees the light at the end of the tunnel.
She said about 85% of the population of Banff would be vaccinated if all residents meeting the new Banff and Lake Louise vaccination criteria were hit in the arms.
“The news about the rise of these vaccines is just the best news for our community,” she said, thanking everyone who participated in the lobbying efforts for mass immunizations in Banff.
Mayor Sorensen believes the summer tourist season can still be saved if people adhere to provincial health restrictions, stay home and get vaccinated as soon as they can.
“We can have a successful economic summer in this community if all of this comes together,” she said.
As part of the crackdown to stop the COVID-19 outbreak, Premier Kenney also said all workplaces in the province with COVID-19 outbreaks will be closed.
In Banff National Park, Sunshine Village and Moose Hotel and Suites are on the outbreak list on the AHS website. The Mount Norquay ski resort is also listed, but closed in April.
At the time of publication, neither the Town of Banff nor the Outlook had some clarification on what that meant for Sunshine, which has a scheduled closing date of May 24, or Moose Hotel and Suites.
“We’re definitely going to be very active in trying to figure this out,” said Silvio Adamo, director of emergency management for the Town of Banff.
The province is also increasing fines from $ 1,000 to $ 2,000 for those who violate the rules of public health measures.