After the P.E.I. government closed liquor stores at the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, Tyne Valley-Sherbrooke MLA Trish Altass is questioning why the decision was made without consideration of the potential harm.
During Wednesday’s question period, Altass said she has heard from several health-care providers dealing with people who are detoxing.
Closing the mental health unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the transition unit at the provincial addiction treatment centre made the situation worse, she said.Altass said the short notice about the store closures caused many people who are alcohol dependent to panic and buy or over consume in dangerous amounts.
“Will you acknowledge the harms caused as a result of these sudden closures and, most importantly, assure Islanders that this will not happen again?”
Although the government initially closed all of its liquor stores, agency stores around the province were still selling alcohol.
The government also later re-opened some of its liquor stores.
Aylward said he acknowledged that the decision was made with short notice.
“In very short order, we realized that this was causing a very negative impact on people’s lives and we corrected that,” he said.
Altass said alcohol dependency was a significant issue in P.E.I. and she asked Aylward why the government closed liquor stores when every other province kept them open.
The decision was made early in the pandemic, no one knew what was going to happen next and liquor store employees were worried, Myers said.Transportation Minister Steven Myers answered the question, saying he was chairman of the operations committee during that period, and it was the group that made the decision in consultation with the Chief Public Health Office.
“There was a lot of people coming in off flights who weren’t socially distancing. There was a lot of fear and the trickle down came from the public health office to close them, and that’s what we did.”
Altass said P.E.I. was falling short of meeting mental health needs of Islanders before the pandemic and she asked for a commitment to proceed with the building of a new mental-health campus without any delays due to the pandemic.
Aylward responded that the government included spending on mental health facilities in its capital budget in the fall.
“We know it’s a very serious issue here in Prince Edward Island and we are prepared to do what we need to do to help Islanders that are suffering from mental health and addictions,” he said.
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