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Alberta’s chief medical officer of health expressed support for the province’s plan to reopen Thursday, calling it a “cautious approach” developed with the expertise of medical professionals.
Dr Deena Hinshaw said the plan is “solidly based” on a framework submitted by her office with some adjustments and noted that it takes into account the immunization rate of a larger portion of the population than the current plans. British Columbia and Saskatchewan.
“We recommended that the plan focus on the percentage of all Albertans aged 12 and over who receive the vaccine, rather than the percentage of adults who received a first dose, as some other jurisdictions have done,” Hinshaw said.
“Based on the best available scientific data, we recommended the 70% cut-off with at least one dose in this age group as a measure for the removal of most mandatory public health restrictions. “
The three-step plan released by Premier Jason Kenney and members of his cabinet on Wednesday could see nearly all public health measures removed by the end of June or early July, provided that 70% of eligible Albertans have received their first dose of vaccine.
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As of Wednesday, the vaccination rate was 58.3%. About 8.1% of Albertans were fully immune as of May 26.
BC’s plan to reopen is not expected to reach its final stage until September, while Saskatchewan’s has longer time intervals between each stage than Alberta’s plan. Saskatchewan’s reopening is expected to reach its final phase in the second week of July.
On Thursday, Hinshaw reiterated that while the provincial plan is based only on the first doses, it is still imperative for Albertans to receive a second shot of the vaccine. She announced that starting Friday, people on dialysis will be eligible to receive a second injection 21 to 28 days after the first.
More information on second dose plans for all Albertans will arrive “as early as next week,” Hinshaw said.
“We want to make sure that all Albertans who qualify for their first dose have the opportunity to enroll as soon as they can,” Hinshaw said.
On Thursday, the premier said there were 433,000 vaccine bookings over the next two weeks and if everyone shows up for those appointments, the province will hit the 70% threshold.
Alberta is currently expected to receive 1.4 million doses of vaccine over the next four weeks and during that time there are 556,000 filled reservations.
“Right now we would have a national surplus of over 600,000 doses. Now, we hope and expect that a lot of them will actually be taken care of by first dose bookings, ”Kenney said. “But it shows that we are now starting to receive a large enough supply of new doses, to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, to give both the first and second doses.”
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Doctors and opposition worried about the speed of the reopening
The first stage of Alberta’s plan will take effect on June 1, two weeks after the vaccination rate hit 50% and with COVID-19 hospitalizations below 800, and includes the reopening of patios and lounges, the resumption of outdoor performances and recreational activities, and enlarged caps for outdoor gatherings, weddings and funerals.
By mid-June, the government expects to be in stage two, with 60% of eligible Albertans vaccinated once and hospitalizations below 500 and dropping. At this point, the easing of restrictions will allow 150 people to attend concerts and festivals. Cinemas and other indoor entertainment spaces can then reopen to one-third of their capacity, and indoor and outdoor sports can resume without restrictions.
Some doctors have raised red flags about how quickly the province plans to revoke all restrictions, pointing out that two weeks ago, Alberta had the highest per capita infection rate in Canada.
But active infections have fallen dramatically, from a peak of more than 25,000 cases on May 9 to 10,017. The number of daily cases continues to decline, with 513 new infections reported on Thursday. The province’s latest positivity rate is 6.1%.
Hospitalizations also fell from nearly 700 just over a week ago to 538 including 150 in intensive care on Thursday.
Yet Alberta’s plan to reopen is the most aggressive of all the provinces. NDP Leader Rachel Notley has called on the UCP government to release the data on which the decisions were based.
“I have questions about how the Prime Minister decided on this pace and whether he was enlightened by science, or just working backwards from day one of the Calgary Stampede,” Notley said Wednesday.
Responding to questions about the criticism the plan has received, Kenney said those who wish to keep the restrictions in place after reaching high vaccination thresholds doubt their effectiveness.
“I would invite people from all political walks of life to examine the science, to examine the real results in jurisdictions around the world on vaccine protection, their effectiveness in saving lives and protecting health systems,” Kenney says.
– With files from Ashley Joannou
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