That’s the only way to describe Alberta’s “tough” new measures.
In response to the soaring number of COVID-19 cases in the province, Premier Jason Kenney declared a “state of public health emergency” on Tuesday.
He started out with a little muscle flex, saying “no indoor social gatherings will be permitted, period.” Outdoor gatherings will be limited to 10 people.
But then we learned that restaurants will be open for in-person dining, bars will remain open, and so will casinos, gyms, stores, primary schools (Grades 7-12 are going to remote learning).
Heck you would be hard-pressed to find anything that will be closed.
Places of worship are allowed to hold services with one-third of capacity, just as they are now but “we are moving from recommendations to rules.”
Mr. Kenney also earnestly announced that masks would now be mandatory in the province’s two big cities, Calgary and Edmonton. But they already are mandatory because municipal governments have been a lot more pro-active and sensible than the province.
What we saw Tuesday was inaction posing as action, a quasi-libertarian Premier bending over backward to do nothing while pretending otherwise.
But Mr. Kenney’s true nature was revealed when he began prattling on about how he has resisted a lockdown because it would be an “unprecedented violation of constitutional rights.” He once again heralded the importance of “personal responsibility” while, at the same time, announcing rules that clearly suggest people don’t have to be very responsible.
Acting forcefully to protect citizens from the ravages of a global pandemic is not a violation of their rights. Quite the opposite.
Just hours before Mr. Kenney spoke, Nova Scotia Premier Stephen McNeil announced the closing of all restaurants, fitness and recreational facilities, libraries, museums, casinos and more for at least two weeks.
Why? Because the province had a “surge” of 37 cases. Thirty-seven. Business owners actually demanded the lockdown, saying severe rules are the only way to retain consumer confidence.
Alberta recorded 1,115 coronavirus cases on Tuesday, along with 16 deaths. And that was the lowest rate in a while, because testing is way down. In recent days, Alberta has had more cases than Ontario, which has more than three times the population.
The testing system is overwhelmed. The contact tracing system has collapsed. Hospital beds, and all-important intensive care beds in particular, are filling up fast. There are dozens of outbreaks in hospitals and care homes and schools.
Alberta’s pandemic response was great for many months – the Premier was right to underline that fact. But the harsh reality today is that public health and hospitals alike are dangerously close to losing control of the situation.
Mr. Kenney said it himself: “If we don’t slow the ER and ICU admissions, it will threaten our health system.”
But then, in the next breath, he was back to talking about how it’s essential to keep businesses open.
Who knows what the public will make of this Jekyll and Hyde discourse? The between-the-line message seems to be: It’s business as usual.
Yes, the pandemic is a blow to the economy; yes, it’s taking a toll on our mental health; yes, there is a lot of collateral damage.
But if there’s one thing we have learned – or should have learned – is that all that will continue, along with the harm of COVID-19, unless you go all-in to slow the spread of the virus.
Mr. Kenney said the “balanced approach” he has chosen will ensure that the spread of the coronavirus is interrupted while allowing businesses to remain open. But you can’t have it both ways.
The evidence from around the world is crystal clear: This approach is a fast-track to failure. Not only will the virus continue to spread, but the economy won’t flourish because people will still be scared.
Quebec has been in lockdown for more than two months – with rules that are way more strict that what Alberta is imposing – and it’s barely able to keep its COVID-19 numbers static, never mind lower them.
Does anyone seriously believe Alberta will be able to do better by essentially doing nothing?
Albertans should brace themselves because they’re in for a world of hurt in the coming weeks.
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