CALGARY, Alta., September 28 (Reuters) – Premier Jason Kenney promised Albertans the âbest summer everâ when he lifted most public health restrictions related to COVID-19 on July 1, but a spike in infections overwhelmed hospitals across the province and left him fighting to save his political career.
The Western Province of Canada is often referred to as âNorth Texasâ for its oil and gas wealth, cowboy culture, and conservative, independent mindset.
Like Texas, COVID-19 is rife in Alberta, which has the highest rate of active infections among Canada’s 10 provinces, at nearly four times the national average. She and neighboring Saskatchewan also have the lowest vaccination rates in the country.
The fourth wave of the coronavirus has left Alberta’s health care system on the brink of collapse, with little respite in sight.
Critical care units in Alberta are 84% full, according to the latest update, even with almost 200 added ‘booster’ beds, near the 90% level at which ICU triage protocols go into effect , forcing doctors to ration and prioritize patient care. with the best chance of survival.
“Our job is to save lives, not choose who should live and die,” said Shazma Mithani, emergency physician at Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton and Stollery Children’s Hospital.
“We’re in the worst situation we’ve ever been in, and it was completely preventable, all of it.”
The only reason intensive care units have room for new patients every day is because people already there are dying, said Verna Yiu, CEO of Alberta Health Services.
Kenney apologized on September 15 for mismanaging the pandemic and imposed a proof of vaccination requirement to enter certain businesses. He got Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, a frequent political enemy, to agree to provide military aid in airlifting patients to other provinces. Read more
Kenney, 53, took advantage of Alberta’s populist streak when after years as Cabinet minister in Ottawa, he returned to the West to lead the newly formed United Conservative Party (UCP) and win the 2019 provincial election.
In July, the province lifted almost all restrictions in time for the Calgary Stampede rodeo, one of Canada’s most popular tourist draws. The following month, UCP printed “Best Summer Ever” baseball caps, even as cases increased and Kenney disappeared on vacation.
He returned in September to offer unvaccinated Albertans a C $ 100 cash incentive to get vaccinated and unveil a vaccination passport system, despite earlier promises that this would never happen.
Kenney has replaced his Minister of Health, but many Albertans remain furious.
Some political commentators have blamed a decline in Conservative support in last week’s federal election to frustrations with Kenney, once named as the party’s potential federal leader.
“I think the only way the UCP can survive is for Jason Kenney to go,” said Drew Barnes, an independent member of the Alberta legislature, who was kicked out of the UCP caucus in May. after calling for the resignation of the Prime Minister.
Last week, a number of UCP lawmakers publicly criticized Kenney. Faced with a caucus revolt, he accepted a management review in the spring, postponing it until next fall. The next provincial election is in 2023, but many voters want Kenney to leave before then.
Kenney did not respond to a request for comment but told a radio show on Sunday: “We have been hit hard by this fourth wave mainly because we got into this with the lowest vaccination rate in the world. Canada.” He also rejected calls for a “hard lockdown” to stem the increase in cases.
âKenney bought time, but now he operates with a sword over his head,â said Tom McIntosh, professor of political science at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan.
SASKATCHEWAN ALSO FIGHTS
Alberta and Saskatchewan have fueled skepticism about the severity of the pandemic from the start, with mixed messages sometimes urging people to stay home and at other times urging them to get out and support local businesses. , McIntosh said.
Saskatchewan, whose right-wing premier Scott Moe mirrored Kenney’s approach to the pandemic, is also collapsing in a fourth wave as intensive care beds fill up and its only children’s hospital begins admitting adult patients with COVID-19.
But Moe doesn’t face a similar backlash within his party. His Saskatchewan Party was formed 24 years ago, unlike the UCP, which is only 4 years old and prone to conflict between its center-right moderates and its rural far-right members.
Moe blamed the unvaccinated people for increasing infections.
During the spring wave, Alberta and Saskatchewan scrambled to manage patients, recalling retired and redundant medical staff, before vaccines ended the pandemic.
Now the staff are exhausted, said Alexander Wong, an infectious disease doctor at Regina General Hospital.
âIt’s just an upheaval for a lot of people,â said Wong, who calls for a lockdown. “We’re basically chin up now.”
Reporting by Nia Williams in Calgary, Alberta, and Rod Nickel in Winnipeg, Manitoba; Editing by Peter Cooney
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