Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer says recent measures imposed by the provincial government, including a ban on indoor social gatherings and modest restrictions on some businesses, are not enough to reverse the province’s rapidly accelerating number of COVID-19 infections.
Deena Hinshaw said on Monday her office is preparing new recommendations for the provincial government to impose additional restrictions, although she did not give details. She pointed out the provincial cabinet has the ultimate power to decide how to respond to the pandemic.
Alberta has the highest rate of new COVID-19 infections in the country as a powerful second wave pushes hospitals and intensive-care units to their limits.
At the same time, the province has had some of the least stringent pandemic restrictions in the country, relying on voluntary guidelines and Albertans’ sense of “personal responsibility.” The government changed course nearly two weeks ago, banning all indoor social gatherings and sending older students home to learn online, but resisted calls to shut down businesses. Retail stores, restaurants, bars and casinos remain open, with some limits.
Dr. Hinshaw said she believes the province would have been in even worse shape without the recent changes, but she also acknowledged they are not having enough impact.
“I will be blunt: So far, we are not bending the curve back down,” Dr. Hinshaw said.
“... I think that the current measures that we have in place are not likely to be sufficient to bring down our numbers, so if the goal is to bring our numbers down, we will need additional measures to be able to do that.”
The government gave itself until Dec. 15 to consider whether the recent changes were working, but Dr. Hinshaw suggested she would not wait that long to make her recommendations.
In the past week alone, the province has added 12,000 new COVID-19 cases, including 1,735 on Monday, and 90 people have died. The province’s per-capita rate of new infections is about 40 for every 100,000 – roughly 1½ times the rate in Manitoba, another significant hot spot, and more than three times higher than in Ontario.
As of Sunday, 609 people were in hospital, including 108 in intensive care.
The province is working to add 2,250 acute-care beds and 425 intensive-care spaces as it braces for infections to continue their steep upward climb. Adding that many beds would require procedures to be cancelled and other patients moved out of hospitals. The province is also considering asking the Red Cross and Ottawa for field hospital tents, although the government has said that is a contingency plan.
Premier Jason Kenney defended his pandemic response in the legislature on Monday and said the government is prepared to go further. Mr. Kenney has argued the government’s approach strikes a balance between protecting public-health and protecting businesses.
“If additional restrictions are necessary, in light of this situation, they would be taken,” he said.
NDP Opposition Leader Rachel Notley called the government’s recent announcement “half measures” that have failed.
The mayors of Edmonton and Calgary said their cities are prepared to bring in their own measures, which could include closing non-essential businesses, if the province does not act.
Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said council would meet on Tuesday to consider what the city could do on its own, which he described as a last resort.
“I maintain, however, that COVID-19 is not a virus constrained by municipal borders, and the best way to tackle that spread is still via at least a regionwide approach implemented by the provincial government,” he said on Monday.
Calgary’s city council will hold an emergency session later this week to discuss potential options, although Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he would give the province “a chance to do the right thing” first.
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.