Alberta’s decision to impose tougher COVID-19 restrictions after resisting that option for weeks was prompted by projections that the province’s intensive care units would be so overwhelmed that doctors could be forced to start rationing care within a month.
Prime Minister Jason Kenney presented this dire scenario on Wednesday as he spoke about why his government is imposing a series of new public health measures, including moving K-12 classrooms online, closing restaurant patios and forcing businesses not essentials that have three or more COVIDs. -19 infections to close.
Mr Kenney asked those who oppose the public health restrictions – a group that includes members of its own United Conservative Party caucus who have publicly criticized such measures – to consider the possibility that someone who cared for is denied treatment because hospitals cannot cope.
“We’re not telling people this creates unnecessary fear,” Kenney said Wednesday, after using a televised address to announce the new rules the night before.
“We’re just trying to be honest with Albertans about where we’re at.”
Alberta has the highest COVID-19 rates in North America and is one of the few provinces in Canada where the number of daily infections is increasing. Alberta has about twice as many active infections per capita as Ontario.
There were 146 COVID-19 patients in the province’s ICUs on Wednesday, a number slightly lower than in recent days, but still about twice as many as a month ago. Mr Kenney said there were also 60 non-COVID patients in intensive care units, which together places the province above the capacity it had before the pandemic.
Health officials say they can expand the province’s capacity to 425 intensive care beds, but that would require the cancellation of most non-essential surgeries and medical procedures. Alberta Health Services released a triage document last week that would guide care rationing decisions by focusing on patients most likely to survive the following year.
Mr Kenney’s government closed restaurants inside restaurants and imposed a number of other restrictions a month ago, but resisted further restrictions even as infections exploded. The new measures are the most severe the province has seen since the first wave a year ago.
The premier berated people who continue to defy public health restrictions, including protesters at anti-lockdown rallies that have been a regular feature of some towns in Alberta and a rodeo, held over the weekend , which drew large crowds to a site near Bowden in clear violation of the ban on large outdoor events.
The opposition he has faced within the UCP caucus includes more than a dozen MPs who publicly criticize the province’s public health orders last April.
Mr. Kenney played down this opposition by saying it amounted to healthy debate. He said on Wednesday that politics were not driving his government’s response to the pandemic.
“However, we obviously have to be aware of the larger context of public opinion in Alberta, of people’s willingness to play by the rules,” he said.
“As I have said many times, there is no point in adopting a policy that will only invite widespread non-compliance.”
One of the signatories of a letter protesting the restrictions last month – UCP MP Nate Horner – said he understood there was a risk that Alberta hospitals would be overwhelmed.
“I know we all need to come together,” Drumheller-Stettler MP Horner said on Wednesday. “I don’t want to do anything other than support the decisions that have been made. That being said, we still have a very rigorous debate in caucus.
Mr Horner said he signed the original letter to let his constituents know that he advocated a regional approach to restrictions in caucus discussions.
“I represent a very rural riding which over the past 14 months has seen periods where there has been very little COVID in large areas,” he said. “Dishwashing and DoorDash aren’t a thing here. “
Mr Horner noted that he responded to around 70 calls from disgruntled voters on Wednesday – many of those facing the loss of work and business income, worry about schools being closed for two weeks and do not understand why the federal government has not implemented more stringent border controls.
“Many of them understand the seriousness of the problem. They have seen the cases increase – they know the situation has changed, ”he said.
Other MPs who signed the letter last month, including Mark Smith in Drayton Valley-Devon, Jason Stephan of Red Deer-South and Miranda Rosin of Banff-Kananaskis, posted Mr. Kenney’s live feed announcing news public health measures on their Facebook pages – without comment.
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