The Alberta government is set to announce additional COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday as it struggles to respond to an explosive third wave that has left the province with the highest infection rates in North America.
Premier Jason Kenney said public health measures are being ignored by too many people in his province, including the organizers of a weekend rodeo that overtook in protest against the rules. Many cities in Alberta have also held regular protests against the lockdown, and more than a quarter of members of Mr. Kenney’s United Conservative Party caucus have publicly opposed the pandemic restrictions.
Kenney, who is proud his government is taking a lighter touch than other provinces when it comes to infection control measures, warned Alberta’s health care system would soon be overwhelmed if the current trajectory continued. The province added a record 2,433 infections on Saturday – translating to the highest daily per capita total of any province during the pandemic – and has about twice as many active cases per capita as Ontario.
“It is as astonishing as it is aggravating that 14 months later, over 2,000 deaths in Alberta alone, there are still many people in the province who don’t even believe COVID is real, who think it is. a big government plot or hoax, ”he said.
“The reason we are at this critical point in the pandemic in Alberta, with a record number of daily cases and intensive care, is precisely because, for some reason, too many Albertans ignore the rules that we have in place.
He did not specify the new measures envisaged by his government.
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There were 154 people with COVID-19 in intensive care on Monday, surpassing the peak of the second wave in late December, although Kenney said the province has the capacity to accommodate many more. Health officials say they can increase to 425 intensive care beds if needed.
Mr Kenney’s government eased public health measures from February by allowing restaurants to open, expanding capacity at retailers and churches, opening lounges and allowing more activity in gyms. As the rules were relaxed, infections started to increase.
In early April, the province backed down by closing indoor restaurants (patios remain open). Last week, the government closed in-person classes for junior and high school students and closed indoor fitness activities in sensitive areas.
The province now has the highest rate of new infections of anywhere in North America and contrasts with provinces like Ontario, Quebec and British Columbia, where infections are on the decline. Compared to the G20 countries, Alberta would rank second just behind Argentina.
Ontario had at least 889 people in intensive care on Monday, a slight decrease from the previous day, although the health ministry warned about 10% of hospitals had not submitted data during the end week. The province has reported 3,436 new cases as the weekly average of new infections continues to decline.
British Columbia and Ontario health officials said Monday they are looking to shorten the interval between doses, which has been extended to 16 weeks as part of a national strategy to administer the drugs. first doses to as many people as possible. An increase in shipments from several manufacturers over the next few weeks has fueled optimism that provinces could switch to this second round of vaccinations much sooner.
Ontario officials have also asked the Federal Vaccine Advisory Group to examine the possibility of mixing doses between the first and second injections pending the results of a British study examining the idea.
Alberta has yet to experience the same crisis in hospitals as places like Ontario, although experts have warned it is only a matter of time before hospitals in the province are pushed. at the edge of the abyss. Alberta has prepared a triage plan to ration care if hospitals are overwhelmed, although health officials say they don’t believe that will happen.
Even if infections do eventually decrease, hospital and intensive care admissions will continue to increase for at least two weeks, as it takes time for a person to get sick enough to require medical attention.
Mr Kenney dismissed the idea that his government had waited too long to act, even as public health experts warned for weeks that the province was heading for disaster. While arguing that his government was right not to follow other provinces in imposing strict lockdowns, he also argued that Alberta has imposed severe restrictions throughout the pandemic.
“We have taken extraordinary measures,” he said. “We find that even though our public health measures are very similar to those of our neighboring provinces, our cases are increasing and theirs are decreasing.
Mr Kenney focused on the vaccine rollout, which he touted as the province’s ticket out of the pandemic and for the “best summer ever.” The prime minister announced that teachers and school support staff would be eligible for vaccines from Tuesday after weeks of rejecting the idea of prioritizing them, and he said the government would present the final phase of the rollout. vaccine for the general public later this week. .
Opposition New Democrats urged the government to impose tougher public health measures and on Monday called for stiffer fines and penalties for those who break the rules. NDP wants minimum fines for offenses tripled to $ 3,600, plus new offenses for obstructing public health orders
“We need to act and we cannot afford to sit idly by as people put our community at risk,” said NDP Leader Rachel Notley.
Joe Vipond, an emergency doctor who has strongly criticized the Alberta government’s handling of the pandemic, said the government should have seen the third wave arrive and taken action to prevent it. Failure to act sooner will mean the province will need tougher measures that will have to last longer.
“This is what we call the predictable and preventable wave because we have done it twice before,” said Dr Vipond, one of the many medical professionals and experts who have called for a strategy ” COVID zero ”to eliminate infections. .
He said vaccines made COVID-19 less deadly, but said many people still end up in hospital and a significant proportion of those infected will become what are called “long- couriers ”, with lasting symptoms that can be debilitating.
With a report from The Canadian Press
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