Skip to main content
Open this photo in gallery:

Albert Health Minister Tyler Shandro, left, and Alberta Premier Jason Kenney unveil the province's Open for Summer sign in Edmonton on June 18. The United Conservative Party government held an emergency COVID-19 cabinet meeting on Thursday to discuss next steps in the province’s strategy, a government source said.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

The Alberta NDP is claiming victory in its push to get the province to delay parts of its controversial plan to end routine COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and mandatory isolation this month.

The United Conservative Party government held an emergency COVID-19 cabinet meeting on Thursday to discuss next steps in the province’s strategy, a government source said. The Globe and Mail is not identifying the person because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

The provincial NDP held a news conference late in the day, citing its own sources as saying the government has decided to delay the plans to end routine COVID-19 testing, contact tracing and mandatory isolation. Some of the controversial changes were set to take effect on Monday.

Update: Alberta will keep COVID-19 restrictions for six more weeks

Alberta’s surprising end to COVID-19 pandemic rules is in line with the UCP brand

Alberta NDP calls for public inquiry into province’s COVID-19 response

“The government will not be rolling back those provisions on Monday, as they had planned,” NDP health critic David Shepherd said late Thursday, acknowledging that he doesn’t know all the details.

After two weeks of strong public opposition, and as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in the province increase, modifications to Alberta’s COVID-19 plan will be officially laid out during a Friday news conference on back-to-school public health measures, the NDP said.

“This is a government that clearly actively has to be held to account, even to maintain the most basic public health measures in the midst of a global pandemic,” Mr. Shepherd said.

Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Deena Hinshaw, announced last month that as of Aug. 16, the province would recommend, but no longer legally require, that people with COVID-19 isolate. She said given the relatively high level of vaccination in the province, it was time to treat COVID-19 as a long-term part of life, like other respiratory viruses. Health officials said resources were needed for other health demands, and hospitalization rates have decoupled from COVID-19 case counts.

Open this photo in gallery:

Alberta's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, at a news conference in Edmonton on March 20, 2020. Last week, Ms. Hinshaw apologized for causing 'confusion, fear or anger' after communicating the province's plan to eliminate remaining public health measures in the province.JASON FRANSON/The Canadian Press

Dr. Hinshaw also said the province would cut wide-scale testing by the end of the month – leaving it to hospitals and doctors’ offices – and contact tracers won’t notify people who may have been exposed to the virus, except in cases that involve high-risk settings such as long-term care facilities. She also said masks will no longer be universally required in schools when classes resume in September.

Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro said the changes were based on science and data, and came from Dr. Hinshaw and her team of public servants rather than being a political decision.

But the changes have been decried as too much too soon by some public health experts and doctors, and were subject to near-daily protests.

The Calgary Chamber of Commerce expressed concern that the province’s reputation and consumer confidence could take a hit. Most schools resume in less than three weeks, and the Canadian Paediatric Society said Alberta’s approach is particularly dangerous for children under 12, who aren’t yet eligible to be vaccinated.

Earlier this month, the federal government took the rare step of wading into an area of provincial jurisdiction, with Federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu writing to Mr. Shandro to say Alberta should not declare victory over the virus too early.

Alberta reported 550 new cases of COVID-19 at the end of Wednesday, compared to 501 the day prior. The province also reported a slight increase in the number of people in hospital with the virus, at 146, with 36 of those in ICU.

“Of the 36 in ICU, 90.6 per cent are unvaccinated and 5.6 per cent partially vaccinated,” Dr. Hinshaw tweeted on Thursday.

“When one person gets vaccinated, everyone benefits. Protect yourself and those around you by booking your 1st and 2nd doses today.”

Most new COVID-19 cases in Canada are being driven by the more contagious Delta variant. As of Wednesday, 76.6 per cent of eligible Albertans aged 12 and up have had at least one dose, and 67.4 per cent are fully vaccinated with two doses.

We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe