Canada’s top doctors say Alberta’s decision to end isolation requirements for those who test positive for COVID-19, or who have been in close contact with someone who has, could have ripple effects across the country.
“I firmly believe that quarantine and isolation can help prevent the spread of COVID-19, especially in light of the spread of the Delta variant,” Theresa Tam, the country’s chief public health officer, said Friday during a news briefing in Ottawa.
She urged people to continue isolating, get tested for COVID-19 and inform their close contacts even if it is no longer required.
Alberta announced earlier this week that close contacts of positive cases are no longer being notified of exposure by contact tracers, nor are they required to isolate. The government has also ended asymptomatic testing.
As of Aug. 16, individuals who test positive won’t be legally required to isolate either, although it will still be recommended. Isolation hotels will close and quarantine supports will end.
Alberta’s case levels have been rising and the Delta variant is now dominant.
Vaccination rates have begun to lag. About 75 per cent of eligible Albertans have received at least one dose of vaccine and 64 per cent are fully immunized.
That means there are hundreds of thousands of unvaccinated people in Alberta, Tam said, and there’s the potential for large COVID-19 clusters and outbreaks.
“The bottom line is get vaccinated. There’s still a ways to go in Alberta.”
The consequences of Alberta’s decision could spread beyond provincial boundaries, added Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer.
“Everyone is alive to the fact that there could be, as they say, ‘knock-on effects’ to the other provinces and territories with travel within Canada,” he said.
Alberta’s decision to lift all restrictions has been widely condemned by local leaders and health-care providers.
As well, the Canadian Paediatric Society has sent an open letter to Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, urging her to think twice about lifting isolation and testing requirements.
The letter called the move an “unnecessary and risky gamble.”
The society said children under the age of 12, who are unable to get the vaccination, will be particularly vulnerable.
“Dropping these public health measures, especially when we are in such a delicate phase of recovery, has the potential to worsen the spread of the virus and could jeopardize future recovery plans and supports,” the letter said.