Just one month after Jason Kenney announced ‘best summer in Alberta history’, the besieged premier turned the tide on Tuesday night with a series of new pandemic restrictions designed to reduce one of the case rates highest COVID-19 rates in North America.
In a rare solo lunchtime address broadcast by local television stations – after which reporters were not allowed to ask questions – Kenney said the province had set a record for people currently in care intensive and that the increase in the number of cases even threatened the increased capacity of the hospital. been implemented in recent weeks.
Many of the new measures will be familiar to residents of other provinces – all students switch to online learning; in-person meals and outdoor patios must close; and churches need to limit capacity to just 15 people – but they will reduce much of the activity currently permitted in Alberta.
Over the past year, Kenney, a staunch advocate of personal freedoms, has largely resisted the type of stay-at-home orders seen in Ontario, for example. Speaking on Tuesday, he used his oft-repeated line about the importance of protecting both lives and livelihoods, but this time he said it was time to act.
“Governments must not infringe on people’s rights or their livelihoods unless it is absolutely necessary to save lives and, in this case, prevent a disaster from happening in our hospitals. . “
According to Health Canada, Alberta’s case rate last week was 308 per 100,000 population, which is higher than any other jurisdiction not only in the country but also in the United States.
Here in Canada, the second highest rate is in Ontario, at 170 cases per 100,000, so Alberta’s rate is about 80% higher.
As cases escalate, Kenney’s government has taken the heat for public health restrictions that critics have decried as too lenient and poorly enforced. But even those rules put in place made some bristle with it, including members of Kenney’s own party.
Kenney has fought a major crackdown on restrictions, including from government MPs representing predominantly rural areas, who say the response to the pandemic has been overblown.
Several of them, including a minister, left the province over the holidays, in defiance of advice to avoid non-essential travel and, more recently, wrote a letter pushing back against government policy.
But over the weekend, a rodeo held in a pasture north of Calgary drew hundreds of unmasked spectators at an event that both violated public health guidelines and drew national attention to what Kenney called the province’s “compliance problem”.
Although Alberta Health Services said it informed organizers that the event was illegal, it has proceeded with little consequence so far.
Kenney said Tuesday that the fine for violating public health orders doubled to $ 2,000 and that his government would introduce a new enforcement protocol for repeat offenders, “because we will not tolerate those who endanger health. of their fellow Albertans.
Vaccines are arriving in greater numbers, he said, but by then these new measures will protect hospitals.
Now the summer is in Albertans’ hands, the Premier said.
“What that looks like will depend on what we all do. So let’s come together and show we’re strong in Alberta.