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‘All we’ve done is taken our foot off the gas’: doctor responds to new Alberta COVID-19 restrictions

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WATCH ABOVE: Calgary urgent care doctor Raj Bhardwaj joins Global’s Joel Senick to discuss the recent COVID-19 restrictions in Alberta. – Nov 24, 2020

A Calgary urgent care doctor is speaking out about the newest COVID-19 restrictions announced in Alberta on Tuesday.

Dr. Raj Bhardwaj said although he believes steps have been taken in the right direction, he doesn’t think the provincial government had gone far enough.

“I feel like we are in a car that’s careening towards a cliff, and we had the chance to sort of turn the wheel or to hit the brakes, and all we’ve done is taken our foot off the gas,” he said.

Read more: Alberta enacts 2nd COVID-19 state of public health emergency. Here’s what it means

The new COVID-19 safety measures in Alberta target social gatherings, schools, restaurants, retail and gyms.

“These mandatory measures will place new restrictions on social gatherings, worship services, businesses, schools and all Albertans,” Premier Jason Kenney said, adding the restrictions weren’t determined lightly.

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“We believe these are the minimum restrictions needed right now to safeguard our health-care system while avoiding widespread damage to peoples’ livelihood.”

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Albertans react to province’s new COVID-19 restrictions – Nov 25, 2020

Schools across the province will see students in Grades 7 to 12 moving to online learning until the new year beginning on Nov. 30. Students in kindergarten to Grade 6, and early childhood learning, will begin online learning in the new year, but will return to class after a few days.

All students will return to classes on Jan. 11, 2021. The decision to extend the winter break is so any students who have been around family during the holidays will have a window to monitor for symptoms before returning to class.

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Coronavirus: Alberta moves students in grades 7 -12 to at-home learning – Nov 24, 2020

Bhardwaj said he supports that decision, however, he added that now would be a good time for the government to take extra steps and throw more weight behind schools.

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“Support the schools by implementing greater ventilation or different programs so that we can reduce the spread, or somehow funding them so that we can have smaller class sizes, so that when they do go back, they’re not just jumping back into the fire, so to speak,” he said.

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Effective immediately, masks have been made mandatory in all indoor workplaces in the Calgary and Edmonton zones.

“I don’t understand why they did that by zone instead of saying anywhere where there are a certain amount of cases per population, masks will become mandatory. I think that would be much more evidence-based,” Bhardwaj said.

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COVID-19: Alberta makes masks mandatory in all indoor workplaces in Calgary, Edmonton and surrounding areas – Nov 24, 2020

Dr. Shazma Mithani, who works in the emergency departments at the Royal Alexandra Hospital and Stollery Children’s Hospital, says the measures simply turn some earlier recommendations into rules.

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The only appropriate step, Mithani says, is not having indoor gatherings — which she suggests should have happened long ago.

Mithani notes people are still allowed to gather indoors at large places of worship and in bars, casinos and restaurants.

She says the decisions don’t appear to be based on science, since contact tracing has broken down and up to 80 per cent of cases have no information about where they were contracted.

“I’m really disappointed with the half measures that were put in,” Mithani said Wednesday.

“I, 100 per cent, understand there needs to be a balance between the economy and managing this pandemic, but we are now at a point where our health-care system is about to break and that needs to be made the priority right now.

“Our economy relies on the health of Albertans.”

Click to play video 'Alberta’s medical professionals say new COVID-19 restrictions aren’t enough' Alberta’s medical professionals say new COVID-19 restrictions aren’t enough
Alberta’s medical professionals say new COVID-19 restrictions aren’t enough – Nov 25, 2020

Kenney said at the news conference on Tuesday that without these measures, thousands of surgeries and other health services would have to be cancelled.

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“Albertans must act together to protect the vulnerable,” the premier said.

Bhardwaj said he doesn’t think that the balance point the government has chosen is one that health-care workers would choose.

“They cannot bring people back to life,” he said.

“And that’s people dying of COVID(-19), but also potentially people dying of heart attacks that weren’t able to access the same treatment because the hospital is full of people suffering from COVID(-19).”

— With files from The Canadian Press