Alberta’s health minister said Thursday that the app created for businesses and facilities to scan COVID-19 vaccine QR codes will no longer be available for download.
Jason Copping said venues that already have the AB Covid Records Verifier app downloaded can keep using for now but it won’t be updated.
“Even though the app is no longer available, the way it works, you do not need it to talk back to a server. So once someone’s got it downloaded on the phone — most locations that are using the QR code have already downloaded and have it available — so that will continue to work for quite some period of time.
“We just won’t be updating the app and you can’t download it new again,” he said. “The app is still there and it works even though they can’t download it.”
There are other options for businesses, Copping said, during this “transition phase.”
“We will be continuing to allow Albertans to maintain the ability to print out the QR code… It has all the dates and numbers on it as well, so they can actually do a visual check.”
Premier Jason Kenney announced the end of the restrictions exemption program — or vaccine passport — on Tuesday evening as part of Alberta’s plan to lift public health measures.
Kenney said Tuesday that businesses that want to continue to require customers to be vaccinated before entering have that right in a free market system.
Read more: COVID-19 hospitalizations decrease slightly as Alberta’s vaccine passport program officially expires
“(That) may appeal to a certain kind of customer,” he said, adding that he hopes there will come a time that the province can do away with providing QR codes that prove people are vaccinated. “(The) problem is we have a lot of Albertans who – especially in the cold winter – love travelling.
“As long as there is a federal requirement (for air travellers to be vaccinated)… we have to offer that as a service.”
Several Alberta municipalities have said they’re considering the possibility and impacts of bringing in a local vaccine passport system.
Edmonton city council has asked administration to examine the issue and bring forward results as quickly as possible.
Copping said Thursday that the purpose of the REP was to reduce transmission and to prevent the health system from being overwhelmed.
“We’re past the peak of the Omicron wave and we’re transitioning to life on the other side.”
He said new hospital admissions of COVID-19 positive patients peaked two weeks ago. Since then, they’re down a quarter provincially and down a third in Edmonton, Copping said.
“We know the numbers are going to come down,” he said, adding hospitalization numbers are a lagging indicator.
Copping said since Jan. 16, the number of cases have been declining.
“Our wave, in terms of community spread, appears to have peaked then, and our wastewater data backs that up.”
The health minister said the public health measures have a cost — economic, social and mental — and the government should loosen or remove them as soon as it’s able.
However, Copping said the EMS and emergency department systems are under particular strain because of staffing shortages and volume of cases.
The Opposition doesn’t support the timing of the UCP government’s decision to start lifting restrictions.
“It’s clear the UCP are trying to paint a much rosier picture of Omicron’s impacts on our health-care system than the reality,” NDP health critic David Shepherd said. “Health-care workers have been very clear that this has been the worst wave for them yet, and hospitals are still scrambling with reduced staffing and trying to catch up on surgery backlogs.”
The NDP also takes issue with the province making the QR code scanning app unavailable for new downloads.
“The abrupt removal of the vaccine verification smartphone app flies completely counter to the premier’s own claims this week that the government will still support businesses who choose to use the restrictions exemption program,” Shepherd said.
“After Jason Kenney made threats against municipalities to legally remove their ability to introduce their own public health measures, a move like this cements the UCP’s refusal to listen to feedback and consult with municipalities on their concerns about COVID-19.”
Rapid COVID-19 tests
Despite “widespread supply challenges,” Alberta received more rapid COVID-19 test kits. Last week, the province sent 2.5 million of them to pharmacies and AHS sites across Alberta, Copping said.
Last Friday, 633 more pharmacies joined the rapid test distribution team, meaning a total of 1,453 pharmacies are taking part.
The health minister said the rapid test kits will no longer be available at AHS sites and only at participating pharmacies.
He said two million more kits are scheduled to arrive this week and Alberta pharmacies should receive stock by next week.
Every Albertan with a valid Alberta Health Card is eligible for one free kit (includes five tests) every 14 days.
“We’ll keep shipping rapid tests to pharmacies throughout this month,” Copping said, adding the province would re-evaluate the rapid test program, demand for it, the need and timing after February.
Daily COVID-19 numbers
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said the province’s positivity rate (from PCR tests) was 29.3 per cent as of Thursday, down from 31.73 per cent on Wednesday.
There were 1,586 people in hospital with COVID-19, 126 of whom were being treated in ICUs, both numbers slightly declining from the day before.
Over the last 24 hours, 22 new COVID-related deaths were reported to Alberta Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said.
Changes to one-site rule for continuing care workers
As of Feb. 16, fully vaccinated workers in continuing care facilities can resume working at multiple sites, Hinshaw said Thursday.
She said the one-site rule, put in place in February 2020, was to stop the spread from site to site in long-term and continuing care environments.
But now, to “help facilities avoid staffing challenges,” and thanks to the efficacy of vaccination, “we can remove this restriction in fully vaccinated workers,” Hinshaw said.
Read more: Province plans to allow health care workers to work at multiple continuing care facilities
She explained the “overwhelming majority” of staff and residents in continuing care are fully immunized against COVID-19 and about 80 per cent of long-term care and designated supportive living residents have three shots of vaccine.
Third COVID-19 vaccine doses for immunocompromised youth
As of Feb. 15, bookings will open for third doses of vaccine for youth 12-17 with underlying health conditions or First Nations youth.
A full list of conditions making young people eligible for third doses – including diabetes and asthma – is posted on the government’s website.
In a series of messages on Twitter Thursday, Alberta Health Services said the pandemic response unit at the Kaye Edmonton Clinic is being deactivated on Sunday, Feb. 13.
“The KEC PRU opened to patients on Jan. 27, 2022 and it allowed AHS to expand capacity within the Edmonton Zone,” AHS wrote.
“The number of hospitalized non-ICU patients across the province has slowed in recent days, allowing for the PRU’s deactivation.”
Staff have started to transfer patients, AHS said Thursday, explaining most will be discharged home or to “other placements in the zone.”
Thirty patients used the Kaye Clinic unit since it opened, AHS said.