As federal and provincial governments continue to implement measures to flatten the curve of COVID-19, we have prepared this update to our publication entitled “Essential services in Alberta,” released on March 23.
Alberta’s most recent measures were published on March 27. Pursuant to these, gatherings of 15 or more people are prohibited, a number of businesses have been required to cease operations immediately, and a list of essential services has been released.

Legislative framework

On March 17, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health (CMOH) declared a public health emergency. This order was made under the authority of the Alberta’s Public Health Act (PHA) and is set to last until rescinded. The PHA gives the CMOH broad and sweeping authority to take whatever steps are, in the CMOH’s opinion, necessary to lessen the impact of COVID-19.

It is worth noting that a public health emergency under the PHA is different from a provincial “state of emergency,” which is governed by Alberta’s Emergency Management Act. If a state of emergency is called, the government would have even broader powers to, for example, close borders and restrict movement of people. To date, a provincial state of emergency has not been called in Alberta.

At this time, the government of Alberta has prohibited gatherings of 15 or more people, and mandated certain businesses and workplace closures. 

Businesses ordered to close 

On March 27, the government ordered immediate closure of the following types of businesses:

  • Non-essential health services (those that will not result in an individual’s life, health or safety being immediately endangered) such as dentistry, physiotherapy, massage, podiatry, chiropractic and optometry services.  Health professionals can offer non-essential health services only if they are deemed urgent by the health professional providing the service. 
  • Personal services / close contact businesses including hair salons and barbershops, tattoo and piercing studios, esthetic services.
  • Wellness services including massage therapy and reflexology services.
  • Non-essential retail services including a retail store located in a shopping centre, or other similar place of business offering or providing only non-essential goods or services. These services may still offer curb-side pickup or online shopping.
  • Recreation and entertainment such as gyms, swimming pools, museums, libraries and casinos.
  • Restaurants are no longer able to offer dine-in service. Take-out and delivery services may continue.

A complete list of affected businesses is available here

Essential service providers

An essential service is a service considered critical to preserving life, health, public safety and basic societal functioning. Alberta has now published a list of deemed essential service providers. The following businesses may continue to provide services at locations accessible to the public:

  • health, medical and public health;
  • public safety and security (including sanitation services);
  • food and shelter;
  • energy and utilities (including fuel distribution, transmission and storage);
  • water;
  • transportation (including maintenance and repair of transportation systems); 
  • industrial (including businesses that manufacture inputs for other manufacturers);
  • petroleum, natural gas, and coal;
  • construction (including services in the industrial, commercial, and residential sectors);
  • agricultural and horticultural (including businesses that support the food supply chain);
  • retail (including businesses providing pharmaceutical services);
  • financial services (including banks and insurance brokerages);
  • information and telecommunications;
  • public administration and government; and
  • other essential services (including engineers and environmental services).

We note essential services must still follow risk mitigation strategies, including social distancing, limiting gatherings, and sanitation. Additionally, if an essential service provides services to the public at a location that is accessible to the public, it must:

  • prevent the risk of transmission of infection to co-workers and members of the public by a worker or member of the public;
  • provide for rapid response if a worker or member of the public develops symptoms of illness while at the place of business; and
  • maintain high levels of workplace and worker hygiene.

Grey areas: can your business remain open?

Businesses not deemed essential, but not ordered to close, are safe to continue operations for the time being. Such businesses can have more than 15 workers on a work site as long as they follow all public health guidelines, including social distancing measures. It is recommended that employers of this type: self-assess and find alternate ways to organize large group meetings, cancel workplace gatherings of 15 or more people in a single space, employ risk mitigation strategies, and continue business continuity planning to prepare critical operations for any potential interruption.

The status of “grey area” businesses, or even businesses currently deemed essential, is subject to change. As such, we again recommend a proactive approach, including reaching out to government to discuss potential orders. That conversation may start with the Alberta ministry most connected to your industry and would be assisted by a business continuity plan (BCP). A BCP is a risk management document that discusses business impact analysis of activities and their essentiality in Alberta. The BCP should include the following:

  • a discussion of the nature of business and the nature of the services delivered;
  • an analysis of direct and indirect impacts of disruptions on the province and its citizens;
  • an assessment of critical services and list of the resources (personnel, contractors, suppliers, and other assets) that must remain at the facility to ensure proper operation.

The Government of Alberta Business Continuity Guide contains significant information on developing a BCP.


Partner, Canadian Co-Head of Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG)
Senior Associate

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