Oil plunge poses 'unprecedented' threat to Alberta's finances: Money manager
EDMONTON -- Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says his government is looking to change workplace rules for employees who may need time off to isolate themselves during the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Kenney says the province is eyeing regulatory changes so workers would no longer need a doctor's note to be able to stay at home after showing symptoms.
"We don't want people who might be sick going into medical clinics and seeing their doctors," Kenney said in Calgary on Wednesday before flying to Ottawa for a first ministers meeting.
"We're looking at a whole suite of measures in terms of regulatory changes to better support folks who may need to stay home."
One question is whether there needs to be legal clarification to prevent employers from laying off people who are isolating themselves at home, Kenney said.
But he added: "I trust Alberta employers. They're not going to penalize people for doing what's responsible in terms of their public health."
Gil McGowan, head of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said he appreciates steps the province is taking but more needs to be done.
He said the government can't just guarantee those who return from self-isolation will still have their jobs. It must also make sure they get paid during that time at home.
"Fourteen days is a long time to go without income, especially for people who are on low income and living paycheque to paycheque and, frankly, that is a lot of Albertans," McGowan said in Edmonton.
As of Tuesday afternoon, Alberta had 14 confirmed cases of the virus. Chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw has said the number is expected to rise, but the risk of catching the virus remains low.
She noted that all 14 cases are travel related and urged those returning from outside Canada to closely monitor their health for two weeks and self-isolate if showign symptoms of the illness COVID-19, such as a cough or fever.
In Ottawa on Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's government rolled out a $1-billion package to help the country's health-care system and economy cope with the outbreak, which has resulted in more than 100 cases nationwide and has now been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization.
Kenney said he appreciates any additional money. He had not seen any details of the federal plan, but said such funding normally is on a per capita basis, meaning about $60 million for Alberta.
"Our initial estimate of (Alberta's) prospective costs to the health system of the coronavirus is in the range of $80 million, so it doesn't cover that," said Kenney.
"If the virus spreads at a level beyond what we're currently estimating, the costs will be significantly higher than that."
He said he will also push Trudeau at the first ministers meeting to ensure doctors, nurses and other health professionals have the necessary personal protection supplies they need, such as masks and gloves.
"As you will imagine, there is a scarcity of those supplies globally right now."