“The problem with this pandemic is that it’s global and that means we’re all interconnected,” said Dr Andrew Boozary, executive director of social medicine at the University Health Network. “For policymakers, hiding their heads away from evidence and science… this is a real concern. ”
Despite a recent increase in infections in Alberta, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, on Wednesday announced a two-phase approach to eliminate the few remaining public health orders in the province.
As of Thursday, close contacts are no longer required to be notified of exposure by contact tracers and will no longer be legally required to self-isolate, although this is still recommended.
Other measures will be eliminated on August 16. People who test positive for the virus will not be required to self-isolate at this time. Isolation hotels will also close as the quarantine ends.
Instead, Alberta will begin modifying its COVID-19 protocols to be more in line with those for influenza or other communicable diseases.
“With the vaccine readily available, the need for the kinds of extraordinary restrictions that we used in the past has diminished,” Hinshaw said.
But Boozary says there should be coordination between provinces to make sure “real disasters” don’t happen across Canada.
“It will definitely have a ripple effect and will definitely affect us all,” he said.
“We are not there yet”
The change comes as Alberta reports some of its highest numbers of COVID-19 cases the province has seen in weeks. The infection rate also continued to climb to unheard of points throughout the pandemic.
The province says 54.7% of Albertans are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while 64.3% have now received at least one dose.
While infectious disease specialist Dr Zain Chagla says the move is likely a preview of what other provinces will eventually adopt, he says the decision came “prematurely.”
“We’re just not there yet,” he said.
“There is still a quarter of this population where adults are still completely susceptible to the delta variant who are not vaccinated. ”
Chagla highlighted several recent cases, notably in Israel and the UK, where the Delta variant found its way into the unvaccinated population after restrictions were relaxed. In the United States, Missouri and Florida are among the hardest hit by the summer outbreak in which the United States is now averaging more than 60,000 new cases per day.
“It’s going to put stress on the health care system… it’s definitely going to have an impact on patient care,” he said.
“If you take out the last tool to make sure healthcare utilization is not outdated, you’re going to see healthcare utilization overwhelmed. ”
Critics multiply on social networks
Other medical experts agree, taking to Twitter to criticize the decision.
So let me be clear: Alberta is removing masking rules AND no longer requiring people who test positive to #COVID19 in quarantine… but the virus is now spreading faster than it did at the peak of wave 3 ??? 🤯🤯🤯 #COVID19AB
Very surprised to see the announcement from Alberta today. We are one country and our destinies are linked. Hopefully elected leaders and public health leaders for that matter can convince Alberta to back down.
The province in which I was born, where I learned to skate, to beat the goalie on the side of the low blockers, to make a doctor of me… gave up science, public safety to make desperate politics. I am literally disgusted. https://t.co/AKxKpbTP1U
He says there’s a set of factors that work against Alberta’s recent decision – including schools reopening in just over a month – and it looks like the province is fell into the “false choice of public health over the economy”.
“Politicization is incredibly dangerous [and] is going to really hamper us in this last kilometer, ”he said.
Boozary added that there needs to be more transparency about the thresholds – not just vaccination targets – that are being considered before more restrictions are lifted.
Ontario to focus on ‘vast majority’ safety
But the question remains: Could Ontario follow Alberta’s lead?
When asked at a press briefing on Thursday whether Ontario would take a similar approach, Solicitor General Sylvia Jones did not specifically respond in both cases, instead confirming that the current policy of hiding at the interior of the province would remain in place for the time being.
“We will continue down the path that keeps the vast majority of Ontarians safe and hope people do the right thing and get immunized as soon as they can,” she said.
The Department of Health said Thursday that more than 80% of Ontarians aged 12 and older had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
This means that one of the three conditions the province has set to go beyond step 3 of its reopening plan has now been met.
The province said if all of these conditions are met, the majority of the restrictions can be lifted as early as August 6.
CBC Toronto has reached out to the Department of Health for comment on Alberta’s recent decision and whether or not Ontario will consider a similar approach in the future, but has yet to receive a response.