Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s government is suspending the spring sitting of the legislature due to soaring, record-breaking caseloads of COVID-19.
Opposition NDP Leader Rachel Notley said Kenney was abandoning his post, deserting Albertans, and allowing others to work at personal risk on the front lines while leaving unfinished critical legislative work, such as paid sick leave.
“He’s a coward,” Notley told reporters Sunday, just hours after Kenney’s government announced the suspension in a statement.
“This premier has locked the people out of their own legislature at a time when they are likely looking more than ever to that very building, and the people running the government inside of it, for leadership.”
Government House Leader Jason Nixon, in a news release, said the two-week stoppage is to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus.
He said it is not due to any confirmed COVID cases among legislature members or staff.
“With COVID-19 continuing to spread across Alberta, the government has determined that having MLAs return to Edmonton from all over the province after constituency week is no longer prudent,” said Nixon.
“Suspending proceedings is the right thing to do as case counts increase.”
Notley stressed her caucus was told of the decision but did not agree with it.
She said the suspension has nothing to do with public safety but with Kenney avoiding accountability on the COVID crisis while contending with a fractured caucus that has seen almost half of his United Conservative backbench publicly criticize his public health rules as an unnecessary infringement of personal freedoms.
Notley said Albertans shouldn’t have to care about Kenney’s internal political squabbles. She also said shutting down the legislature so politicians can stay safe sends a cruel message to those who can’t stay home, including restaurant patio servers, retail staff, and teachers and students in schools.
“He’s not thinking about any of those Albertans today. He’s thinking about himself and not having to come into work,” said Notley.
“He’s running away from responsibility and frankly running away from his caucus.”
Kenney’s cabinet will continue to meet virtually and legislature committees will also continue, with members participating remotely.
The tentative return date is May 17, and Nixon said the house can reconvene earlier if an emergency arises.
Notley was asked: What would constitute a bigger emergency than the current COVID crisis?
“Your guess is as good as mine,” she replied.
“There are multiple logical inconsistencies in the rationale behind this – and that’s what happens when you use one explanation to cover something you are doing for entirely different reasons.
“It is about politics and it’s about Jason Kenney’s utter failure to lead through this time.”
The decision comes as Alberta’s hospital system braces for a storm surge of patients over the next few weeks, given daily COVID-19 case counts have topped the 1,000 mark for almost a month.
On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, Alberta has logged more than 2,000 infections a day.
The daily count decreased on Sunday, to 1,731 new diagnoses and three added deaths.
But hospitalizations rose to 648, with 155 COVID-19 patients in intensive care.
Hospitals in Edmonton and Calgary have begun scaling back non-urgent surgeries to handle the pandemic-related influx.
On Friday, Alberta’s physicians were briefed on a triage protocol should the COVID situation ever reach that sobering point.
The 50-page document stresses the plan would be to focus resources on patients with “the greatest likelihood of overall survival” while considering the amount of resources needed for that survival and how long those resources would be needed.
It will be a group call, given the heavy moral burden such life and death decisions would have on individual physicians. Family members of the patient would have no say.
For the last 14 months, Kenney has toggled health restrictions on public gatherings and businesses, trying to save lives and keep people’s livelihoods intact.
He was criticized for waiting too long to bring in new rules during the second wave at Christmas and is now facing similar critiques during the third.
Kenney dismissed bringing in new restrictions on Monday, saying people likely wouldn’t follow them anyway, but by Thursday introduced new rules on so-called COVID-19 hot spots. He said the measures were critical to bending the curve.
Kenney dismissed criticism he was pursuing inconsistent, confusing policy, instead characterizing it as a nimble, flexible response.
Kenney’s government has also been criticized for failing to enforce public health rules, particularly allowing packed congregations to meet for months at the GraceLife Church near Edmonton before shutting it down in early April.
Kenney has said his government has no say in how health rules are enforced.
Over this weekend, hundreds of people flocked to a maskless “No More Lockdowns” rodeo outside the central Alberta community of Bowden, in full defiance of the province’s health regulations and with no on-the-ground pushback from authorities.
Kenney, in a series of posts on Twitter Sunday, scolded the rodeo goers.
“Not only are gatherings like this a threat to public health, they are a slap in the face to everybody who is observing the rules to keep themselves and their fellow Albertans safe,” Kenney wrote.
“If we do not begin to bend the curve, our health care system could very well be overwhelmed in a matter of weeks.”
Alberta currently doesn’t allow indoor social gatherings and outdoor gatherings are limited to 10 people. Stores remain open at sharply reduced capacity and restaurants can keep their patios open.
On Thursday Kenney announced new rules for high-case zones – encompassing most of Alberta’s urban areas – shuttering gyms and sending home Grade 7-12 students who weren’t already learning online.
Ontario to expand vaccine rollout this week, reports 3,732 new cases
The coming week will see a significant expansion in the number of Ontario residents eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, the province announced Sunday as it made good on a promise to ramp up efforts in areas hit particularly hard by the pandemic.
The government announced all adults 18 and older living in any of 114 designated hot-spot postal codes will be able to book their shots through its online portal as of 8 a.m. Monday. The move comes days after the province pledged to allot half its vaccine supplies to areas with particularly high case counts over the next two weeks.
Eligibility will expand further on Thursday when online bookings open up to residents 50 and older, the province said. Others captured in that expansion include people with high-risk health conditions, those who can’t work from home including teachers and school workers and First Nation, Inuit and Metis people not previously targeted in earlier phases of the immunization drive.
Health Minister Christine Elliott credited an increase in vaccine supply for the province’s accelerated inoculation efforts, particularly in virus hot spots.
“Continuing to focus on getting vaccines in the arms of those most at risk will help to stop the spread of COVID-19 in these communities, protect our hospital capacity and save lives,” Elliott said in a statement as she urged residents to avail themselves of the expanded eligibility criteria and get vaccinated.
Premier Doug Ford’s government has been criticized for a slow and bumpy vaccine rollout while cases have soared, particularly during the ongoing third wave of the pandemic. But last week Elliott promised a major expansion was on the way thanks to an expected influx of millions of vaccine doses.
Sunday’s announcement confirmed a plan outlined last week appears to be proceeding as expected.
The next 14 days will see half of Ontario’s supplies directed to hot spot postal codes, a move first suggested by the provincial science advisers who urged distributing shots based on transmission rate rather than age group to reduce virus-related hospitalizations and deaths.
All adults in hot spots have been cleared for immunization for some time, though they could not book through the provincial website. Instead, residents have been getting shots at pop-up and mobile clinics, sometimes standing in line for hours.
Ontario said it will return to per capita distribution for vaccines on the week of May 17.
If supply holds, the province expects to make those 18 and older eligible for a shot at mass sites provincewide on the week of May 24.
Thursday’s planned expansion to those with high-risk health conditions include those living with obesity, developmental disabilities and treatments requiring immunosuppression among others.
Details of the expanded rollout came as Ontario reported 3,732 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, along with 23 more deaths linked to the virus.
Despite the uptick in cases, the province recorded a decrease in both hospitalizations and admissions to intensive care units.
The number of patients in hospital stood at 1,961, with 875 in intensive care and 615 on a ventilator.
Elliott said there were 1,198 new cases in Toronto, 797 in Peel Region, 306 in York Region, 237 in Hamilton and 232 in Durham Region.
B.C. Liberal legislator Mike Bernier says he’s tested positive for COVID-19
A Liberal legislator in British Columbia says he and his family have tested positive for COVID-19.
Mike Bernier, who represents Peace River South and acts as the Liberal finance critic, posted the news on Twitter late Sunday, saying his family is self-isolating.
He says he was not infectious when he was at the legislature between April 19 and 22.
Bernier notes that while he was vaccinated the week of April 26, public health officials tell him he was exposed to the virus before getting the shot.
British Columbia has been grappling with a surge of COVID-19 cases fuelled by more contagious variants of the virus, though recent modelling suggests transmission is starting to slow down.
Bernier says his family’s test results came as a shock, because he says they’ve been following all public health guidelines.
“I want to encourage everyone to get their vaccination as soon as possible,” he said on Twitter. “I caught the virus while following all protocols. The vaccine – any of the vaccines available – offer an added layer of protection. It well help all of us get back to a normal life.”
Quebec COVID-19 cases holding steady as some restrictions set to ease
Quebec’s new COVID-19 cases are holding steady at just over 1,000 as the province plans to ease some restrictions in the Montreal and Quebec City areas.
The province reported 1,006 cases and nine new deaths on Sunday, but none in the last 24 hours.
Hospitalizations declined by four to 574, while the number of people in intensive care fell by two to 157.
The province announced last week that it would allow elementary students in the Quebec City region to return to class on Monday after being closed throughout the month of April.
The nighttime curfew in Montreal and neighbouring Laval is also moving from 8 p.m. to 9:30 following about two weeks of stable cases and a slow decline in hospitalizations.
Quebecers age 45 and up will also be able to book their vaccine appointments beginning Monday as the province gradually widens access to the general population in descending order of age.
Health officials in Nova Scotia report another 133 coronavirus cases
Health officials in Nova Scotia are reporting 133 new cases of COVID-19 today.
There are 117 cases in the province’s Central Zone, nine cases in the Eastern Zone, one case in the Northern Zone and six cases in the Western Zone.
There is community spread in the Central Zone, which includes Halifax, and city police continue to crack down on people violating the province’s Health Protection Act.
Police responded to three incidents overnight Saturday that resulted in 17 tickets that carry fines of $2,000 each.
The Nova Scotia Health Authority lab continues to experience a backlog due to the volume of testing in the province.
As of today, Nova Scotia has 822 active cases of COVID-19 and there are 34 people in hospital, including six in intensive care.
Manitoba reports two deaths, 281 new coronavirus cases
Manitoba is reporting 281 new COVID-19 cases and two additional deaths of people with the virus.
The province’s daily pandemic update says one of the deaths was a woman in her 30s from the Northern health region.
The other was a man in his 80s in the Southern health region whose case has been linked to an outbreak at the Emerson Health Centre.
It’s the second day in a row the province has said a death was linked with that outbreak, which was declared three weeks ago.
There are 167 people in Manitoba hospitals with COVID-19, 40 of whom are in intensive care.
Manitoba’s five-day test-positivity rate is 7.7 per cent provincially and 8.4 per cent in Winnipeg.
Health officials in New Brunswick report 37th coronavirus-related death, six new cases
A resident of Pavillon Beau-Lieu, a special care home in Grand Falls, N.B., is the 37th COVID-19 related death in New Brunswick.
Health officials say the person in their 80s died in hospital.
Officials are reporting six new cases of COVID-19 today with half of them in the Edmundston region, while the Moncton, Saint John and Bathurst regions each have one new infection.
Restrictions on access to the University of New Brunswick’s Fredericton campus, as well as St. Thomas University and New Brunswick Community College Fredericton, will be lifted at 11:59 p.m. tonight.
However, residents and staff of Magee House and Elizabeth Parr-Johnston residences who are required by Public Health to self-isolate are continuing to do so, and access to the two buildings will remain restricted.
There are now 137 active cases of COVID-19 in the province and five patients are hospitalized, including two in intensive care.
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