Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney says any new restrictions in response to the recent spike in COVID-19 infections must balance the “unintended consequences” that come with shutting down parts of the economy.
The province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Deena Hinshaw, said earlier this week that she’s considering additional measures for Edmonton, which has seen an alarming surge in new cases and where infection rates in some areas are three or four times higher than the rest of Alberta. Dr. Hinshaw did not say what type of restrictions are being contemplated.
Mr. Kenney said he looked forward to hearing Dr. Hinshaw’s recommendations in their weekly meetings, but he said the province wants to avoid reversing course after reopening many sectors of the economy over the summer.
He added that the province’s approach to pandemic restrictions has already been less-stringent than the rest of Canada.
“We also need to recognize that for every public-health restriction, there are negative unintended consequences,” Mr. Kenney said.
“And we, as our Chief Medical Officer of Health has said many times, need to balance off efforts to limit the spread of the virus with the broader social and economic health.”
Mr. Kenney pointed to a record number of fatal overdoses in the spring as an example of those negative consequences.
Alberta is among several provinces where COVID-19 infections have been rapidly increasing in recent weeks.
The province identified 276 new infections on Tuesday, the third-highest number of daily infections since the height of the pandemic in April. The bulk of new cases has been in Edmonton.
The province puts areas with infection rates of more than 50 per 100,000 people under “watch,” which could prompt additional infection-control measures. Most of Edmonton is in that category, and in one area of the city, the rate is 161 per 100,000 people.
A similar debate is playing out in Ontario and Quebec, where infections are also quickly climbing. Quebec has added more than 1,000 cases a day for several days, while Ontario’s new infections have been topping 500 a day for the past week.
Quebec has ordered a new round of closings that will affect restaurants, movie theatres and other businesses, while Ontario has resisted such a move, despite pleas from Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health.
In Alberta, which had among the earliest and most aggressive economic relaunch plans in the country, the government has made it clear it wants to avoid bringing back restrictions.
Annie Dormuth, director of provincial affairs for Alberta at the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses, says many of the organization’s members are nervous about a second wave this fall – and a second lockdown. She said that even before the pandemic, many businesses were already struggling to survive through a long-standing economic downturn.
“Any type of additional or full or partial shutdown would prove to be fatal for many businesses,” she said.
Ms. Dormuth said any new restrictions need to be accompanied by additional support that can be accessed quickly by affected businesses.
“We have had time to learn from the first round, and I don’t think that there’s any excuse if the government can’t ensure that support mechanisms are in place for the second round,” she said.
Adam Legge of the Business Council of Alberta said the province should focus on public education rather than turning to renewed lockdowns. If necessary, any restrictions should be “surgical” to target specific areas or hotspots rather than sweeping closings such as the ones at the beginning of the pandemic.
Mr. Legge agreed with the Premier that the response to the pandemic must consider the way restrictions affect people’s lives.
“We have better information and better tools at our disposal now that let you be far more specific to limit the employment and economic damages as a result of any restrictions,” he said.
“There are implications either way. We can close down businesses to keep COVID at bay, but we have to recognize that the countervailing force is that people are losing jobs, people are losing livelihoods, people are losing savings and even homes.”
Janet Riopel, president of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement that businesses in the city are worried about the potential for a second lockdown and she urged people in the city to take health advice seriously.
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.