Good morning. It’s James Keller in Calgary.
As the Omicron variant of COVID-19 takes hold in Ontario and Quebec, it has yet to make a major dent in Western Canada. British Columbia and Alberta have confirmed just a few dozen cases, and there have been even fewer in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.
That has meant governments in the region have not announced any significant changes to tighten up public-health measures. And on the contrary, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has said he intends to relax limits on private gatherings to allow larger gatherings for the holidays.
Alberta recorded a total of 50 cases of the Omicron variant as of Tuesday — an increase of 20 from the day before — including one with no known source who wasn’t a returning traveller or a close contact of one. But that still represents a tiny fraction of overall infections, which continue to be driven by the Delta variant.
The province has increased contract tracing for Omicron cases but has otherwise not shifted its approach or contemplated any new public-health measures. The province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, has said the province can’t stop the variant so the goal right now is to slow its spread.
Mr. Kenney was scheduled to announce on Tuesday changes to gathering limits, along with a program to make rapid tests more widely available, but the event was abruptly cancelled to clear time for a meeting with the Prime Minister and other premiers to discuss the growing Omicron threat.
The Premier has faced intense criticism throughout the pandemic from opponents who say his government has not done enough to control the virus in the face of successive deadly waves, but also from people — including from within his own party — who believe even the province’s comparatively modest public health measures have gone too far.
In British Columbia, COVID-19 infections had been steadily declining for months but have levelled off in recent weeks.
Bonnie Henry, the Provincial Health Officer, released new modelling data that showed the potential for the variant to drive a significant spike in infections. The modelling showed daily cases could surge to more than 2,000 a day by the end of this month, up from about 400 now, if the variant significantly increases transmission and can more easily infect the vaccinated.
While Dr. Henry did not announce any new public-health restrictions, she urged people to get vaccinated, including boosters for people who are eligible, and not let down their guard.
The province confirmed 44 Omicron cases as of Sunday, up from 10 on Friday. Nearly half of those are related to recent travel. Dr Henry said cases have largely been in younger people who are vaccinated, which has meant their infections have been relatively mild.
Saskatchewan and Manitoba have each had just a handful of Omicron cases and have not announced any new health measures in response. Saskatchewan is distributing free rapid tests that people can take home, and Manitoba is considering doing the same.