EDMONTON — Alberta's chief medical officer of health announced 18 new cases of COVID-19 in the province Monday but the news came via video, as she has isolated herself at home and is being tested for the virus.
"I felt well yesterday but woke up with a sore throat," Dr. Deena Hinshaw said during a tele-conference at the legislature.
"Although my symptoms are mild, it is important to underline that no one is exempt from staying at home, even if they have mild symptoms."
She said she is staying in a separate bedroom, eating alone and staying at least two metres away from family members.
"This is what our new normal looks like."
Hinshaw said her symptoms — no cough or fever — do not suggest she has COVID-19, the disease that comes from the novel coronavirus. But she said she was asked to get tested anyway so she can get back to work in person as soon as possible if the results are negative.
She said the 18 new cases include people in northern and southern Alberta, meaning there are now cases in all medical zones in the province.
The total number of cases is 74.
Alberta has taken steps to reduce the spread. There are to be no gatherings of 250 or more. Classes in schools and post-secondary institutions have been suspended and daycares have been closed.
Also Monday, the legislature resumed sitting after a scheduled week-long break. Public tours and events have been cancelled and public access to the building has been curtailed.
Members on both sides of the house spoke before empty public galleries and sipped from paper cups instead of their usual water glasses.
Debate raged during question period over an announcement by government house leader Jason Nixon that he would accelerate and limit debate to get the United Conservative government's 2020-21 budget passed by Tuesday night.
Nixon said it's critical to ensure funding is in place for the fiscal year that begins April 1, given the legislature may be shut down at any time over self-isolation concerns.
Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the government has short-term measures it can use to keep spending going.
Notley accused Premier Jason Kenney of using undemocratic methods to ram through a budget that relies on unreachable revenue forecasts and harms Albertans with changes that will affect everything from front-line health care to classrooms.
"Passing this budget now will allow this government to avoid oversight, transparency and accountability for the next year," Notley told the house.
The house is also to vote Tuesday on adding $500 million to the health budget to fight the coronavirus.
Kenney told the house that the health budget is already the highest ever at $20.6 billion, even before the extra $500 million.
The "Opposition, in the midst of a time of enormous public anxiety, is seeking to frighten people on the basis of gross misinformation," he said.
Notley said when population and inflation are considered, the $500 million will barely cover the effective net loss of $462 million since 2019.
In other developments, Kenney updated his announcement made last week that Alberta will offer paid, job-protected leave for those who have to self-isolate for two weeks or must care for people who have contracted COVID-19.
Kenney told the house his government hopes the federal government will fund the paid leave by expanding its employment income program.
Notley accused Kenney of misleading Albertans.
"The premier promised Albertans that he would protect them and provide income support immediately," she said in a statement.
"Now he’s decided to shrug his shoulders and wait for Ottawa.
“We’ve seen the premier break promises before but perhaps never one this important.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2020
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press