2021-09-25 04:54:22 Alberta Was ‘Open For Summer.’ Now, Covid Cases Surge

Alberta Was ‘Open For Summer.’ Now, Covid Cases Surge

When Premier Jason Kenney declared victory over the coronavirus and made Alberta the first province to lift most pandemic restrictions in June, public health experts slammed him.

“We finally have the upper hand on this virus and can safely open up our province,” Mr. Kenney said from a podium emblazoned with a sign declaring the province “open for summer.” On the website of his United Conservative Party, supporters could purchase caps emblazoned with the slogan “Best Summer Ever, Alberta 2021.”

Mr. Kenney returned last week with a less triumphant message: the declaration of a public health emergency, as well as the reimposition of additional restrictions for the second time this month and the appointment of a new health minister.

Alberta had 20,180 active Covid cases as of Thursday, nearly half of all cases in Canada, straining intensive care units to the point where the provincial government has requested military assistance to fly patients thousands of miles to be treated in other provinces. Covid has killed 308 people in Alberta since Mr. Kenney lifted restrictions on Canada Day.

“I know we all hoped this summer that we could finally put Covid behind us; that was certainly my hope,” Mr. Kenney said on Sept. 16. “It is now clear that we were mistaken, and I apologize.”

Many members of Alberta’s medical community flatly dismissed Mr. Kenney’s remarks, claiming that they came weeks too late to avert the crisis, and that his new public health measures fell far short of what was required.

“Our health-care system has already functionally collapsed,” Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta, told me on Friday. “Yet we have a society that goes on as if nothing is wrong.”

Dr. Schwartz was among many in the province’s medical community who raised the alarm during the summer, when the Delta variant, combined with Alberta’s comparatively low vaccination rates, caused an increase in infections and hospital admissions. (With only 61.9 percent of Albertans fully vaccinated, compared to 69.7 percent nationally, the province is second only to Saskatchewan in terms of vaccine take-up.)

Alberta implemented pandemic preparedness measures in early September. Dr. Schwartz, on the other hand, claimed that they were insufficient and frequently ineffective.

“As if a 10 p.m. alcohol curfew could keep the virus at bay,” he said. Dr. Schwartz added that, rather than preventing crowds from packing nightclubs, the measure simply meant that “people were going out to party earlier.”

Mr. Kenney’s government announced a number of new restrictions and rules, including those involving masks, on the same day he apologized. However, given the gravity of the situation, Dr. Schwartz believes that the new safety measures will be insufficient to keep the health-care system from collapsing. Alberta, in his opinion, needed to implement a “hard lockdown” in which all but essential retail and services would be closed.

He was particularly critical of plans to allow NHL games to be played in front of tens of thousands of fans in Calgary and Edmonton. While fans will be required to show proof of vaccination or a recent negative test result in order to enter, several news outlets have reported that Alberta’s vaccine document, like Ontario’s, can be easily edited or faked with only basic computer skills.

“We really have no choice but to go into a hard lockdown, which we call a firebreak,” he explained. “Basically, we have a raging forest fire — Albertans are used to the imagery. We are advocating for the removal of some of the combustible elements, in this case people.”

Instead, Mr. Kenney’s government has mostly promised to increase hospital resources. Dr. Schwartz, on the other hand, stated that such additional resources were impossible to provide due to a shortage of trained medical personnel.

He did not see Alberta’s situation improving until the province was shut down by the government.

“I never imagined something like this could happen in Canada,” Dr. Schwartz said. “We’ve reached a critical juncture. It is extremely discouraging for health-care workers. It is terrifying for patients and people who are chronically ill. That the government hasn’t implemented a meaningful hard lockdown at this point, while perhaps politically unpopular, it boggles my mind.”

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Alberta Was 'Open For Summer.' Now, Covid Cases Surge