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UCP associate minister backtracks on comments suggesting Alberta is holding off COVID-19 shutdown

Click to play video 'UCP MLA clarifies controversial COVID-19 comments' UCP MLA clarifies controversial COVID-19 comments
WATCH ABOVE: An Alberta associate minister has clarified comments he made about the province's response to the COVID-19 during a virtual townhall Friday. As Nicole Stillger reports, MLA Jason Luan initially said the government was waiting for hospitals to be pushed to the limit before adding more restrictions.

A UCP MLA and associate minister is coming under fire for comments around Alberta’s COVID-19 response he made during a virtual town hall Friday evening.

“Our criteria is measured against our hospital capacity to handle ICUs and hospitalizations,” Jason Luan, the associate minister of health and addictions said, after he was asked about Alberta’s potential for a lockdown.

“We’re waiting to see where that threshold would be pushed to our limits, then gradually reduce more activities that way.”

These comments sparked harsh criticism and by Sunday afternoon Luan backtracked.

“I was incorrect in suggesting anyone is waiting until we are pushed to the limit. That was not accurate,” he said in a statement posted to social media.

“I am not a spokesperson or involved in any decision making around introducing new restrictions or hospital capacity.”

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Read more: Despite no COVID-19 deaths reported Sunday, Alberta adds another record-breaking 1,584 cases

NDP health critic David Shepherd called it “an incredibly embarrassing bozo eruption” from Luan.

“He is accountable for his words, he is accountable for pushing this kind of misinformation and creating this kind of fear and anxiety in the province of Alberta,” Shepherd said Sunday.

“What we see is this government continues to push mixed messaging, downplay the very reality, the real impact of COVID-19.”

Click to play video 'NDP says Alberta government must ‘do more,’ like increasing non-restrictive COVID-19 measures' NDP says Alberta government must ‘do more,’ like increasing non-restrictive COVID-19 measures
NDP says Alberta government must ‘do more,’ like increasing non-restrictive COVID-19 measures – Oct 27, 2020

In his statement Sunday, Luan said the government continues to act on advice from health officials like Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw.

“I truly regret any confusion my statement has caused. My responsibility during this pandemic has been to ensure that mental health and addiction services are available for all Albertans,” Luan said.

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Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, said Albertans deserve to know how decisions are being made when it comes to the pandemic.

“He’s an associate cabinet minister in the department of health, so while I appreciate the backtrack and the clarification it strikes me as, “What is going on? Who is in charge? What metrics are being used?’ — This was horrifying,” Bratt said Sunday.

Read more: Calgary economist urges more COVID-19 restrictions to prevent further damage to Alberta economy

Hospital stress

Dr. Shazma Mithani, who works at the emergency room at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton, said while she’s glad Luan admitted that approach was wrong, she still feels not enough is being done to protect health-care resources.

“We are there in the trenches, we are there on the front lines,” Mithani said Sunday.

“We’re seeing what impact COVID-19 is having on our ability to care for patients both with COVID-19 and without.”

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She said the system is stressed and strong mandatory restrictions are needed if there’s any hope of keeping up.

“It’s scary to go to work now seeing those numbers climb above 1,000 for multiple days in a row now,” she explained.

“My biggest fear is that we are not going to be able to cope with all of the patients that present to hospital.”

Read more: Increasing COVID-19 hospitalizations in Alberta pushing ICUs to 90% capacity

Mithani said she believes the time for a short ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown to avoid overwhelming the system may have even passed.

“There was a short window where I thought the two-week circuit-breaker would have been effective,” she said.

“However, our cases have increased so dramatically, I think that the only way to really curb the spread of COVID-19 and to flatten that curve is much stronger and longer measures now.”

Mithani would also like to see a mandatory mask policy across the province and non-essential businesses closed.

“I’m still fully supportive of curbside pickup, delivery, to support our small businesses,” she explained.

“I think fitness facilities, bars, casinos, bingos as well should be closed. These are non-essential services and these are places where multiple people are gathering in close contact and are hotspots for potential spread of COVID-19.”

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