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May 7 2020

Top re-opening questions and concerns from Alberta businesses

UPDATE: On May 11, 2020, the Government of Alberta launched Alberta Biz Connect, an online hub with guidance and supports to help businesses re-open safely.

Since the release of Alberta's relaunch strategy, the Calgary and Edmonton Chambers have received many questions and concerns from businesses in our two cities. On May 7, 2020, we combined and shared these in a letter to the Premier of Alberta, and urged the government to clarify and address them in ongoing public announcements.

1. Many personal services businesses are unsure how to operate given physical distancing requirements.

For this sector, we recommend publishing provincial guidelines as soon as possible detailing how to operate safely and in accordance with public health measures. Where possible, these guidelines should be issued jointly from Alberta Health Services and the applicable licensing college to increase certainty for Alberta businesses.

2. Restaurants unclear on the intersection between the 15-person limit on gatherings, and the requirement to open at only 50% capacity.

For most restaurants, 50% capacity is larger than 15 people, and they are seeking clarity as to whether the 15-person limit applies to their operations as well.

3. Businesses are asking us whether they can recall staff if appropriate physical distancing measures are put in place in their workplace.

The province is encouraging businesses to keep staff working from home wherever possible. Essential businesses have received considerable guidance on how to operate safely, and we recommend the province release similar sector-specific guidelines for businesses who are keen to recall their staff. We also ask that the province consider potential incentive programs for businesses who need to re-imagine their physical spaces to allow for physical distancing.

4. Businesses in Stage 1 have many questions about how re-opening will impact their access to programs.

Will the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance program or the Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy payments continue to flow to businesses who have re-opened, but are still facing a shortfall of customers and revenue? We urge the Government of Alberta to work with the federal government to ensure there are adequate supports to bridge the revenue gap most businesses will face upon re-opening. It is also imperative that supports remain available for businesses who make the difficult but prudent decision not to re-open as part of Stage 1. Following public health directives is most important to continue to flatten the curve and protect the health of all Albertans – for some businesses, the best way to do this may be to not re-open in Stage 1.

5. Retailers in Stage 1 are unclear on PPE requirements.

Whether staff and/or customers are required to wear PPE, how and when PPE will be made available, whether shielding will be required at cash desks, and how to accommodate physical distancing in smaller shops. Publishing sector-specific guidelines will help retailers and businesses in other industry sectors to address their specific considerations in re-opening.

6. Businesses in the essential services category are seeking more information to plan effectively.

Will these businesses be allowed to do onsite rapid testing for COVID-19? Will AB Trace Together be mandatory for essential workers? Once a vaccine has been developed, will essential workers be a high priority for vaccinations? Will the isolation period for essential workers be shortened if the worker tests negative for COVID-19? Essential businesses that require workers to enter someone’s home are seeking clarification on how to do this safely, which sector-specific guidelines could provide.

7. Lack of clarity on PPE for office workers

Office workers are unclear as to what PPE will be required in their workplaces, and how PPE will be made available.

8. Lack of clarity for tourism providers

Tourism providers are unclear on when travel restrictions will be lifted, and when they can accept bookings for travellers.

9. Concerns about staff being unwilling to return to certain types of jobs

We have heard numerous concerns about staff being unwilling to return to certain types of jobs, especially those where earnings are below the level of support being provided through the Canada Emergency Response Benefit. We ask that the Province work with the Federal Government to ensure support programs include requirements to return to work when it is safe to do so.

10. Disagreement on categories of business between province and municipalities

There is disagreement between the business categories listed in Stages 1, 2 and 3 of the relaunch plan, and the categories of municipal business licensing in both Calgary and Edmonton. In instances of disagreement, we urge that the province ensure its relaunch plan is not superseded by municipal business licensing categories. Businesses are also unclear as to whether Cities are required to follow the Government of Alberta’s timeline.

11. Businesses in stages 2 and 3 eager to understand projected timelines

Businesses in Stages 2 and 3 are eager to understand any projected timelines for when they can expect to re-open. We understand the timing of re-opening is heavily dependent on the behaviour of Albertans and the continued flattening of our curve, but any information you can provide for businesses in later stages would be most appreciated. A line of site to timing would be beneficial to aid Stage 2 and 3 businesses to be ready and for those businesses to continue to engage with their customers.

12. Mixed messages for retailers in Stage 1 located in large shopping centres

Retailers in Stage 1 who are located in large shopping centres are hearing mixed messages about whether or not they will be able to open. Please provide clarity on the re-opening guidelines for large shopping centres as soon as possible.

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