With Alberta’s rise in new COVID-19 cases significantly outpacing all other parts of the country, Premier Jason Kenney says he expects to announce new public health restrictions on Tuesday in an attempt to bend the curve.
“Take this seriously,” Kenney implored Albertans on Monday, as he suggested the health-care system could soon see its capacity overwhelmed if the province’s rise in coronavirus cases does not begin to flatten or decline.
The premier said discussions about potential new public health measures are ongoing but did not say what they may involve.
At his news conference on Monday, Kenney said the situation in the province is on a downward spiral because too many Albertans are not following public health measures already in place.
He reiterated that his government has continuously followed an approach to addressing the pandemic that balances COVID-19 concerns with mental health and people’s ability to earn a living.
“I think we’ve generally done quite well with that,” he said. “Our middle-ground approach has been successful.”
Kenney said while his government could have imposed tough, extended lockdowns or taken a laissez faire approach that results in higher death numbers like in parts of the U.S., he is pleased with the approach his government has taken in its pandemic response.
He added that he takes issue with people playing the “blame game.”
Kenney noted that he believes his government has been very proactive throughout the pandemic by increasing the capacity of the health-care system, the contact-tracing system, testing and PPE.
Despite concerning trends in Alberta, Kenney said there have been some positives, including that the ratio of positive cases to hospitalizations is declining.
However, Kenney acknowledged that the variants and the pandemic’s third wave currently besieging Alberta are very serious “and we will do whatever we can do to fix it.”
Kenney said his government has already “taken extraordinary measures,” including the fact that indoor social gatherings have been banned since December, religious gatherings have been restricted and some businesses have not been allowed to operate for over a year.
While talking about the potential need to bring in new restrictions, Kenney pointed out that he believes the “lockdown” in Toronto has not had its desired effect, considering the capacity of Ontario’s health-care system is currently stretched thin.
“We can have, on paper, the hardest lockdown imaginable, and if… a large share of the population isn’t following that, it doesn’t matter,” he said.
Kenney pointed out that while public health restrictions in Alberta are similar to those in B.C. and Saskatchewan, those provinces are seeing their COVID-19 numbers decline while Alberta’s situation worsens.
Kenney said “hammering” people with tough new restrictions may not be the right approach “if you have a compliance problem as we apparently do here in Alberta.”
“There is a behavioural difference here,” he said, adding he has heard some Alberta municipalities have seen motions brought forward opposing public health restrictions — something he said concerns him.
Kenney did not bring up the more than a dozen members of his own government who have formally opposed his public health restrictions in a letter.
“The broad majority of the population is trying to comply,” Kenney said. “What’s required is broad public buy-in to the restrictions that are in place.
“We’ve all got to be part of the solution.”
Kenney said he has spoken to Justice Minister Kaycee Madu about exploring options to improve enforcement of public health measures.
Opposition Leader Rachel Notley issued a statement following Kenney’s news conference in which she said “Albertans have lost trust in Jason Kenney, and he failed them again today.”
“He claimed his approach is working but everyone knows that is not true,” she said. “Albertans can see the rising case numbers, hospitalizations and ICU admissions with their own eyes.
“The half-measures Jason Kenney has put in place are not working. He must provide paid sick leave and effective enforcement. He must apply greater measures across the province and not on a regional basis.
“Any new measures must come with all the data and all of Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s written recommendations to cabinet.”
Last week, Kenney announced new public health measures for so-called COVID-19 “hot spots” in Alberta. In hard-hit jurisdictions, junior and senior high school students were moved to at-home learning while indoor sports were temporarily suspended in those regions.
“What we’re seeing in recent days strengthens our conclusion that previous measures that had been put in place have not been adequate to flatten the curve in Alberta,” the premier said.
For weeks now, a number of public health experts, infectious disease experts and critical care doctors have been calling for Alberta to bring in tougher measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 in the province.
Late last month, Dr. Noel Gibney, co-chair of the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association Pandemic Response Committee, said Edmonton’s COVID-19 numbers were comparable to where the city was at the beginning of December.
“We’re tracking very, very closely and looking at the curves,” he said. “They’re very, very similar.
“The only difference is, we started from a higher baseline than we did in December.”
Dr. Neeja Bakshi, a COVID-19 unit physician at Edmonton’s Royal Alexandra Hospital, told Global News late last month that the facility has noticed a change since Easter.
“We saw a dramatic increase in admission,” she said. “We were going from a couple a day to six to seven per day, that’s including ICU and the (COVID-19) ward.”
–With files from Global News’ Julia Wong
Watch below: Some recent Global News videos about the COVID-19 situation in Alberta.