Alberta was “open for the summer”. Now Covid cases are on the rise

Premier Jason Kenney came under heavy criticism from public health experts in June when he declared victory over the coronavirus and made Alberta the first province to largely lift pandemic restrictions.

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

Last week, Mr Kenney returned with a less triumphant message: declaring a public health emergency, while reimposing more restrictions for the second time this month, and appoint a new Minister of Health.

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

“I know we all had hoped this summer that we could put Covid behind us once and for all; that was definitely my hope, ”Kenney said on September 16. “It is now clear that we were wrong, and I apologize.

Many in the Alberta medical community have outright dismissed Mr. Kenney’s comments for arriving, in their opinion, weeks too late to stem the crisis, and said his new public health measures fell well short of that. that was necessary.

“We are already at the point where our health care system has functionally collapsed,” Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta, told me on Friday. “Yet we have a society that just goes on and on.”

Dr Schwartz is among many in the province’s medical community who began sounding the alarm bells over the summer, as the Delta variant combined with Alberta’s comparatively low vaccination rates resulted in an increase in infections and hospitalizations. (With only 61.9 percent of Albertans fully immunized compared to the national rate of 69.7 percent, the province is second behind Saskatchewan for having the lowest immunization rate.)

In early September, Alberta implemented pandemic control measures. But Dr Schwartz said they were inadequate and often ineffective.

“As if a 10pm alcohol curfew can keep the virus away,” he said. Rather than preventing crowds from packing nightclubs, Dr Schwartz added, the measure only meant that “people were just going out to party earlier.”

On the day of Mr. Kenney’s apology, his government announced various restrictions and renewed rules, including those involving masks. But given the level of gravity of the situation, Dr Schwartz said the new security measures would not be enough to keep the healthcare system from being overwhelmed. In his view, Alberta needed to introduce a “hard lockdown” where most things other than retail and essential services would be closed.

He particularly noted, with disapproval, plans to allow NHL games to take place in front of tens of thousands of fans in Calgary and Edmonton. While fans will need proof of vaccination or a recent negative test result to participate, several media outlets have reported that Alberta’s vaccine document, like Ontario’s, can be easily changed. or tampered with using only minimal computer skills.

“We really have no choice but to go into a hard lockdown, what we call a firewall,” he said. “Basically we have a wildfire raging – Albertans know the footage well. We are calling for the elimination of certain fuel elements, in this case people.

Instead, Mr. Kenney’s government mostly promised to give more resources to hospitals. However, Dr Schwartz said such additional resources were impossible to provide due to the lack of qualified medical staff.

He did not foresee that the situation in Alberta would improve until the government closed the province.

“I never imagined this could happen in Canada,” said Dr. Schwartz. “We are at a desperate point. It is extremely demoralizing for health care workers. It is terrifying for patients and for people with chronic illnesses. That the government has not put in place a strict and meaningful lockdown at this point, while perhaps politically unpopular, is beyond me. “

  • After more than 1,000 days, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians jailed by China in apparent retaliation for the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the Chinese telecommunications leader, returned home Friday evening after a day of developments. First, Huawei chief financial officer Ms Meng virtually appeared in a U.S. court to settle a fraud case against her admitting wrongdoing. She then went to a court in Vancouver, where it was announced that the United States had dropped its extradition request related to the fraud charges, which led to her arrest at that city’s airport. in 2018. Ms. Meng left Vancouver for China around the same time Mr. Kovrig and Mr. Spavor were released by Chinese authorities and boarded a flight to Canada.

  • Manohla Dargis, a New York Times film critic, wrote that after attending the Toronto International Film Festival, where screenings were held in largely empty theaters due to the pandemic, “On me recalled that a film festival is not just a series of flashbacks of new films, it is also people, reunited and usually stuck together, like one under the cinematic groove.

A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported on Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.

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