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Edmonton declares local state of emergency over COVID-19, suspends some fees for citizens

Mayor Don Iveson announced late Friday afternoon that city council voted to declare a local state of emergency in response to the deepening COVID-19 crisis. Councillors also agreed to take steps to ease financial burdens many Edmontonians are facing because of the pandemic.

“This decision was not made lightly,” Iveson said, referencing the state of emergency, adding it ensures “we are as agile as possible during these fast-moving times… to keep people safe.”

“This is an unprecedented situation for our city and for the world.”TWEET THIS

0:46City of Edmonton mayor says local state of emergency ‘All about the rule of law’ City of Edmonton mayor says local state of emergency ‘All about the rule of law’

Iveson also thanked the provincial government and front-line workers for plans to convert part of the Edmonton Expo Centre to a space that can accommodate overflow of homeless people and other vulnerable Edmontonians as local shelters face additional pressure.

READ MORE: Kenney says Edmonton Expo Centre will be used for vulnerable population amid COVID-19 crisis

1:15Mayor Iveson on Edmonton Expo Centre being used for vulnerable population Mayor Iveson on Edmonton Expo Centre being used for vulnerable population

The mayor said councillors “care deeply about this community” and are doing all they can amid the health crisis, adding he is in daily contact with provincial and federal officials about the quickly changing situation.

The facility at Bergen Community College, which officials said tested approximately 654 people on its first day of operation. Despite the early closure, state officials called the site’s first day a success.

Those seeking tests must be New Jersey residents, have symptoms of the coronavirus: which can include a fever of at least 99.6 degrees Fahrenheit, a cough and shortness of breath. Officials have said health care workers and first responders have first priority for testing.

The drive-up testing facility is scheduled to open again Saturday at 8 a.m.

“We will be taking a measured approach to ensure that it is as flawless of a process as possible,” Chris Neuwirth, an assistant commissioner with the state health department, said during a Friday afternoon briefing.

Officials initially expected to test about 200 people at the site Friday, according to Neuwirth. The site did not run out of tests amid the flood of people. About 2,500 testing kits would be available to the site weekly.

Iveson also announced council voted to allow the deferral of property tax payments and city utility fees for people who need such relief. No late penalties will be charged to tax payments made by Sept. 30.

The city said more information will be available before tax notices are mailed in May.

Interim city manager Adam Laughlin said utility deferral will be from March 18 to June 18 and noted that both for utility payments and property taxes, the deferrals “will not be automatic.”

The city said the option for deferring utility payments for those who need to will not be guaranteed until a final agreement is in place between the city, the Alberta Utility Commission and utility partners.

Laughlin said Edmontonians who need to take advantage of deferrals will need to contact the city or their utility provider to make arrangements. He said those who take advantage of the relief will not incur additional interest or penalties and nobody, even those in arrears, will have their utilities cut off until the crisis recedes.

“We’re all in this together,” Laughlin said, adding that on Friday, “the city and its union partners signed an agreement” that will allow for city workers to be redeployed “as needs arise” to ensure necessary services are maintained.

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