‘We must do better’: Notley criticizes Alberta government’s COVID-19 response

A file photo of Alberta's Opposition leader Rachel Notley.
A file photo of Alberta's Opposition leader Rachel Notley. Cam Cook, Global News

After the province announced more public health measures on Thursday to address a surge in COVID-19 cases, Opposition Leader Rachel Notley described the Alberta government’s response to the pandemic as inadequate.

“What we learned today is the UCP have blown past their own previously stated triggers by 50 per cent and only now are we getting the most limited of actions,” she said in a news release.

READ MORE: New restrictions announced for Alberta as 860 COVID-19 cases, 10 deaths reported Thursday 

Notley responded after the government announced a lengthy list of measures it was taking, including a two-week ban on indoor group fitness classes and team sports in some municipalities, reduced hours during which restaurants and pubs can sell liquor in some areas, a two-week prohibition of amateur singing, dancing and theatre groups and further limits on how many people can gather at various events and settings.

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While the measures are aimed at addressing a significant rise in COVID-19 cases in recent days, the province stopped short of announcing a “circuit-breaker,” essentially a two-week lockdown that dozens of doctors in Alberta have been calling for to try and rein in the coronavirus as the number of people in hospital continues to rise.

READ MORE: ‘Canary in the coal mine’: Alberta doctors sound alarm on rising COVID-19 cases 

“This is our chance,” Premier Jason Kenney said Thursday, speaking from home via teleconference. “It’s no secret that I do not want to take an approach that restricts people’s fundamental rights and freedoms, their ability to gain a livelihood — I’m concerned about the broader social and health impacts of those things.

“However, if Albertans do not respond in a significant way over the next two weeks, we will have to consider additional targeted restrictive measures.”

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Notley accused Kenney of having “done nothing for weeks” and said she believes it’s not clear that the measures announced by his government will have the impact they need to.

“Here’s what we do know — we can’t identify the source of 67 per cent of COVID-19 cases,” she said. “This week, in multiple separate instances, hundreds of front-line physicians have come forward to demand action from this government. We cannot ignore the alarm bells from the front-line.

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“Alberta is very close to becoming the most dangerous place in the country to live with COVID. We must do better.”

Kenney urged Albertans to take the COVID-19 pandemic seriously and to limit their contact with others as much as possible, especially as numbers in the province continue to rise.

“We are putting our faith in the good judgement of Albertans,” he said.

Watch below: Some recent videos about the COVID-19 pandemic in Alberta.

Notley noted that some provinces like B.C. and Ontario have presented updated COVID-19 models and urged Kenney to make Alberta’s latest models public.

READ MORE: B.C. on track to see 1,000 new COVID-19 cases a day if changes not made: modelling numbers 

For weeks, the Edmonton zone has been one of the hardest-hit parts of the province when it comes to COVID-19.

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Following the announcement of new public health measures on Thursday, the City of Edmonton’s interim manager Adam Laughlin issued a news release in which he welcomed the new restrictions.

“The rising number of COVID cases across Edmonton, the surrounding region, and across Alberta continues to be concerning,” he said.

“The City of Edmonton will follow the restrictions laid out by the province. Starting tomorrow, the city will cancel all programmed fitness classes and group recreation bookings for the next two weeks. Recreation centres will remain open for individual fitness activities.”

Laughlin added that the city’s enforcement officers would help enforce the new restrictions at pubs and restaurants.

“The number of COVID(-19) cases is rising and we must do all we can to prevent the virus from spreading,” he said. “While restrictions continue to change, there are several things that remain true about what Edmontonians can do to stay safe.

“Above all else, wash your hands, wear a face covering or mask, limit gatherings and keep physically distant from others outside your household.”

Cases have recently been rising significantly in the Calgary zone as well. Prior to the new restrictions being announced Thursday afternoon, Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi voiced concern about the increase in hospitalizations.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Alberta doctor warns ICU could be at capacity within 2 weeks 

“The ICU rate is more than doubled in the last two weeks and this is where we get into exponential growth,” he said.

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“I do not want… any health-care worker to have to make a decision on who gets the ventilator because there aren’t enough ventilators, and that’s up to us to make sure that doesn’t happen.”