Premier Jason Kenney warned Albertans on Thursday that the province is “now in a significant new wave of COVID-19” and suggested that is in large part because many Albertans are not following public health guidelines and the federal government is not procuring vaccine supply quickly enough.
“We all wish it was over,” the premier said at a news conference in Edmonton. “Many… have just tuned out.
“I had hoped to be able to tell you that we had turned a corner… Unfortunately, we’re not in that situation today.”
Kenney said the province needs to “get back to the basics.”
“If everyone was simply following the measures that were in place… We would not be in the midst of what looks like a significant surge,” he said.
Kenney said he believes many Albertans have chosen to live their lives as if there is no pandemic because they see life returning to normal in jurisdictions like Florida and Texas.
He said those states are able to more fully reopen their societies and economies because their ability to vaccinate citizens is far ahead of Canada’s.
“If we finally start getting enough doses, we believe that we can deliver up to 400,000 jabs per week,” Kenney said. “All of this adds up to Alberta leading the country in the percentage of received vaccine doses that have been administered.
“We’re getting jabs into arms as fast as they arrive, we just need them to arrive faster.
“If our federal government didn’t put Canada at the back of the line for buying vaccines, we’d be where they are in those U.S. states.”
Kenney said if people think of the virus and the vaccine as competing against one another in a race, then “federal dithering on vaccines gave the virus a huge head start in that race.”
Kenney said positivity rates in the province are currently at the highest they’ve been since the beginning of the year and noted that is one indicator of future hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19.
“We know with great certainty that we will have close to 500 COVID-19 patients in hospital just two weeks from now,” he said, adding that could grow to 1,000 people a month from now.
Kenney said the growth is being primarily driven by the B.1.1.7. variant, which was first discovered in the U.K. He said a week ago, that variant accounted for 13 per cent of Alberta’s active COVID-19 cases and now it makes up for 33 per cent, adding it’s “only a matter of time until it’s the dominant strain.”
The premier pleaded with Albertans to follow public health rules and guidelines currently in place.
“Not gathering inside is the single most important thing we can do at this time,” he said.
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said there are serious concerns about the recent surge in COVID-19 cases in the province.
“To put it plainly, we are once again at a dangerous time,” she said, noting that not only are the new variants of concern able to spread more easily, they are also more likely to result in severe outcomes and are having more of an impact on younger age groups.
“Vaccines do offer hope,” Hinshaw said, “if we keep cases low for just a few more months.”
Hinshaw noted her team is seeing spread in a variety of settings, including ones linked to sports and recreation. However, she said the common theme is not the setting itself, but whether people follow the rules.
When asked why more restrictions weren’t being brought in to address the soaring number of COVID-19 cases like in late 2020, Kenney said the situation is different because people are being vaccinated, the province has stockpiles of PPE and the contact-tracing system is more robust than ever before.
“We have very strong measures in place,” he said, noting that the province is looking at whether more targeted restrictions may be needed in the future. “The key thing is to respect the rules that are in place.
“I believe we have seen… public behaviour respond to the numbers and to the threat as it has risen in the past.”
Kenney noted that the province is currently seeing an increasing number of people not following the rules already in place.
“If they’re not complying with the current restrictions, I think they’re not likely to comply with additional restrictions,” he said.
Hinshaw noted that in B.C., restrictions weren’t eased as they were in Alberta in recent weeks but that province is still seeing a significant rise in cases at the same time as Alberta.
“Right now, you need to be thinking about your community, your neighbours, the people you love,” she told Albertans.
“I’m very concerned about the numbers… very concerned about the variants.”
Latest COVID-19 numbers in Alberta
Alberta Health said Thursday there were 875 new COVID-19 cases identified in the province in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of active cases to 8,653.
The Calgary zone has more active coronavirus cases than any other region with 4,058. The Edmonton zone has the second-highest number of active cases in the province with 1,889.
The province’s positivity rate was at 6.5 per cent.
On Thursday the province also identified 322 additional cases of variants of concern, bringing the provincial total to 4,377.
Four more deaths were linked to COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, bringing Alberta’s pandemic death toll to 1,994.
Alberta Health said the people who died were two men in their 70s linked to the outbreak at Covenant Health St. Joseph’s long-term care in the Edmonton zone, a man in his 70s in the Calgary zone and a woman in her 70s in the North zone. All cases included comorbidities except in the case of the woman in the North zone. Alberta Health said there were “no known comorbidities at this time” in connection with that fatality.
As of Thursday afternoon, there were 292 people in hospital with COVID-19, 59 of whom were in intensive-care units.
As of Wednesday, Alberta Health said 653,010 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Alberta.
“There are now 103,926 Albertans fully vaccinated with two doses,” the government department said in a news release, adding that appointments for Phase 2B of the province’s vaccine rollout program have started booking at select pharmacies.