Many Albertans express confusion, frustration over COVID-19 emergency alert message
CALGARY -- Karine Betts was enjoying an early afternoon with her children at her rural home on Friday when suddenly her phone sounded off with an emergency alert.
“My kids were terrified,” she said. “I read the message and instantly I was just livid because my kids were upset and I had to tell them it was the exact same thing we’ve been hearing for the past 13 months.”
Betts, like hundreds of thousands of others, received the same emergency alert message shortly before 5 p.m. Friday, to inform Albertans of the latest COVID-19 restrictions.
The rural Albertan resident of Lake Isle called the message ‘fear-mongering’ and said it was a ‘gross misuse’ of the broadcast system.
“Those alerts are meant to get people’s immediate attention like in the case of a child abduction or loose gunman or something like that, but if that continues people are going to turn their phone off, they’re going to stop paying attention,” Betts said.
“You have so many vulnerable people that are genuinely scared and we’re already bombarded on the streets to stay home, wear a mask, I take my kids to the park and there’s signage everywhere, you know what on earth is this doing to people?”
Thousands more took to social media and CTV News received several emails expressing frustration over how the message was delivered.
Kimberly Roy, an expectant mother who is due in less than three weeks understood the importance of communicating the message, but admitted her fear at the moment of receiving it.
“I totally thought it was an Amber Alert, I was panicked for whatever child was in danger and that was kind of my initial reaction to it,” she said.
“It was a little bit of panic just to think there could be something really wrong going on.”
A 'PRUDENT' MESSAGE
In a statement, the UCP government stands by its decision to send out the emergency alert, which was delivered to Alberta smartphone users for the first time since the pandemic began.
“Alberta, as well as other provinces, have used emergency alerts for the pandemic previously,” read the statement from Premier Jason Kenney’s press secretary, Jerrica Goodwin.
“With Alberta seeing the highest level of active cases since the beginning of the pandemic, and new restrictions for localized areas, it was prudent to ensure all Albertans are aware of the health measures in place to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.”
On Thursday, Kenney had also warned Albertans at a COVID-19 update press conference that the alert was going to be sent out the following day.
“All I can say is that I don’t want to be standing here two weeks from now, having to bring in something like a hard lockdown on Alberta that we’ve managed to avoid as a province in the last year, because people don’t respond to this call.”
POLITICAL SCIENTIST: 'IT'S A GOOD COMMUNICATION TOOL'
While thousands of Albertans expressed concern over using the province’s emergency alert system to deliver COVID-19 restrictions, some political experts say government officials made the right call.
“We’re in the worst pandemic of anyone’s lifetime,” said Mount Royal University political science professor Keith Brownsey.
“We’ve had over 25,000 Canadians die, and we are at max capacity in terms of Alberta’s hospitals so I don’t think anyone can complain about the government using the emergency network at this time.”
Brownsey adds that this alert is a good communication tool and alerts Albertans to new health measures in an instant.
“It’s up front, this is a serious event,” he said.
“I’m glad the province uses the notification system on our smart phones, I think it’s a wise thing, it emphasizes the fact that we are in a pandemic and it gets that information out quickly to just about everybody.”