Good morning. It’s James Keller in Calgary.
In Saskatchewan, where there are already few COVID-19 public-health measures in place, Premier Scott Moe says it’s time to start lifting restrictions and learn to live with the virus.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney says his province’s vaccine passport system could end within two months.
B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer says gathering restrictions could be lifted in the coming weeks.
And in Manitoba, officials there are striking a comparatively cautious tone but also plan to map out a reopening plan next week.
As the Omicron wave peaks and, in many places, recedes, provinces are looking toward what happens next. While hospital admissions are still increasing in some places (though they, too, may be slowing or have peaked, depending on the province), there are signs that infections are decreasing, such as through testing wastewater for the virus.
Saskatchewan has been the least restrictive of any of the Western provinces through the fifth wave, as Mr. Moe has repeatedly rejected the prospect of added public-health measures, even as hospitals filled up and as the province’s top doctor warned that more needed to be done.
Mr. Moe said this week that society needs to learn to live with COVID-19 while maintaining public-health and health care capacity, and he promised that some remaining restrictions, such as isolation protocols for students, would be lifted soon. The province also changed its isolation rules for people who test positive, setting that at five days for everyone, including the unvaccinated (it had previously been 10 for people without a vaccine).
B.C.’s health officer, Bonnie Henry, has made similar comments about living with COVID-19 recently and this week said limits on social gatherings are expected to be lifted by Feb. 21. Still, Dr. Henry foreshadowed a phased-in approach, warning that COVID-19 would be with the province for some time.
“New variants will surely emerge. Immunity will wane, whether that’s from infection or from vaccination. We know that there’s a seasonality, and next fall will bring the increased risk of transmission again. And we need to prepare for that.”
Mr. Kenney said Alberta’s vaccine passport system was always intended to be temporary, and noted that when it was announced, he said it would likely end by the end of March. He said he still hopes that happens, and the trends happening in Alberta and elsewhere make him optimistic.
He also pointed to hospital admissions. ICU numbers are far below the previous wave, when there were concerns doctors would be forced to ration care, and while non-ICU admissions are at their highest number ever, half of them were not admitted for COVID-19. The overall capacity of the health care system is “not unusual” and comparable to the same time of year in 2018, he said.
The Manitoba government extended public-health orders, including a cap on public gatherings and limits on guests in private homes, for another week, instead of letting them expire on Feb. 1. The province has been more cautious than other parts of Western Canada, in part to respond to hot spots of infections such as southern Manitoba.
Health officials there say they, too, are seeing signs that the Omicron peak may be at hand.
“Based on several data points, it appears that [the] Omicron wave may have peaked or is in the process of peaking or plateauing in Manitoba,’’ said Manitoba’s Chief Provincial Public Health Officer, Dr. Brent Roussin.
With reports from The Canadian Press
This is the weekly Western Canada newsletter written by B.C. Editor Wendy Cox and Alberta Bureau Chief James Keller. If you’re reading this on the web, or it was forwarded to you from someone else, you can sign up for it and all Globe newsletters here.