By Justin Seward
Cypress-Medicine Hat MLA Drew Barnes has been asking the provincial government since last May to ease the COVID-19 restrictions for the southeast region.
“(Since) May 1, it was clear to me the (module) estimating was wrong and that COVID wasn’t affecting all areas of the province equally or affecting businesses equally,” said Barnes.
“I also believe the government got it wrong when their first distinction for businesses opening and closing was essential versus non-essential, and I was arguing it should be safe versus non-safe. If you’re a small business owner, who’s keeping your place clean, washing your hands and social distancing, you should be able to open.”
The main reason for Barnes’ ask is the mental health and economic affects.
“That crisis is just as bad as our COVID crisis and we have to start paying attention to that,” said Barnes.
“Evidence-based supports that gyms should be open, restaurants should have some seating, businesses can be more open and that’s what I’m calling for.”
Barnes said most of his constituents think the same way and a lot of them think that there is a lot of COVID fatigue.
“We’re entering our 11th month of this and Albertans realize that a lot of people have paid a huge price with family, mental health problems, business and economic problems .They know there is a balance between protecting everybody and mental health,” said Barnes.
He would like to see more local people have more say in their restrictions.
“Like in Calgary and Edmonton—where cases are higher— I think it warrants a tighter approach,” he said.
“But in some of our municipal counties where there’s very few cases and they’re very isolated, I think it’s OK to be opened.”
Barnes has spoken to people who have health problems and are scared to go into the system or not able to get into the system as well as others who are experiencing loneliness.
“I’m a believer that there’s going to be a lot of work ahead for our entire community because this has been a huge game changer,” said Barnes.
“Some businesses have had to close for four of the last 10 months, so that’s affected employee pay, landlords, utilities (and) taxes.”
Another factor has been the low numbers in his constituency.
“Albertans have been very respectful,” said Barnes.
“Everywhere I go, we social distance, we wash our hands, mask wearing is very high. We’re concerned about each other.”