Alberta was “open for the summer”. Now Covid cases are on the rise

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Premier Jason Kenney came under heavy criticism from public health experts in June when he declared victory over the coronavirus and made Alberta the first province to largely lift pandemic restrictions.

“We finally have the upper hand on this virus and can safely open our province, ”Kenney said from a podium with a sign declaring the province“ open for the summer ”. On his United Conservative Party’s website, supporters could buy caps embroidered with the slogan: “Best summer ever, Alberta 2021.”

Last week, Mr Kenney returned with a less triumphant message: declaring a public health emergency, while reimposing more restrictions for the second time this month, and sacking his health minister. .

Alberta had 20,180 active cases of Covid on Thursday, almost half of all cases in Canada, straining hospital intensive care units to the point that the provincial government has requested military assistance to transport patients thousands of miles for treatment in other provinces. Since Mr. Kenney lifted restrictions on Canada Day, Covid has killed 308 people in Alberta.

“I know we had all been hoping this summer that we could put Covid behind us once and for all; it was certainly my hope ”, Mr Kenney said on September 16. “It is now clear that we were wrong, and I apologize.”

Many in the Alberta medical community have outright dismissed Mr. Kenney’s comments for arriving, in their opinion, weeks too late to stem the crisis, and said his new public health measures fell well short of that. that was necessary.

“We are already at the point where our health care system has functionally collapsed,” Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Alberta, told me on Friday. “Yet we have a society that just goes on and on.”

Dr Schwartz is among many in the province’s medical community who began sounding the alarm bells over the summer, as the Delta variant combined with Alberta’s comparatively low vaccination rates resulted in an increase in infections and hospitalizations. (With only 61.9 percent of Albertans fully vaccinated compared to the national rate of 69.7 percent, the province is second behind Saskatchewan in having the the lowest vaccination rate.)

In early September, Alberta implemented pandemic control measures. But Dr Schwartz said they were inadequate and often ineffective.

“As if a 10pm alcohol curfew could keep the virus away,” he said. Rather than preventing crowds from packing nightclubs, Dr Schwartz added, the measure only meant that “people were just going out to party earlier.”

On the day of Mr. Kenney’s apology, his government announced a variety of restrictions and renewed rules, including those involving masks. But given the level of gravity of the situation, Dr Schwartz said the new security measures would not be enough to prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed. Alberta, in his view, needed to introduce a “hard lockdown” where most things other than retail and essential services would be closed.

He particularly noted, with disapproval, plans to allow NHL games to take place in front of tens of thousands of fans in Calgary and Edmonton. While fans will need proof of vaccination or a recent negative test result to participate, multiple media reported that Alberta’s vaccine document, like the one from Ontario, can be easily modified or tampered with using only minimal computer skills.

“We really have no choice but to go into a hard lockdown, what we call a firewall,” he said. “Basically we have a wildfire raging – Albertans know the footage well. We call for some of the fuel elements, in this case people, to be removed from the path. “

Instead, Mr. Kenney’s government mostly promised to give more resources to hospitals. However, Dr Schwartz said such additional resources were impossible to provide due to the lack of qualified medical staff.

He did not anticipate that the situation in Alberta would improve until the government closed the province.

“I never imagined this could happen in Canada,” said Dr. Schwartz. “We are at a desperate point. It is extremely demoralizing for health care workers. It is terrifying for patients and for people with chronic illnesses. That the government has not put in place a meaningful hard lockdown at this point, while perhaps politically unpopular, is beyond me. “


  • Huawei chief financial officer Meng Wanzhou appeared in a U.S. court on Friday to settle a fraud case against her by admitting wrongdoing. That done, she then went to a court in Vancouver to learn that the United States had dropped its extradition request related to the fraud charges that led to her arrest at that city’s airport in 2018. Ms. Meng is now free to leave Vancouver and return. in China. But what that means for Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians jailed by China in apparent retaliation for his arrest, is unclear.

  • Manohla Dargis, a New York Times film critic, wrote that after attending the Toronto International Film Festival, where screenings were held in largely empty theaters due to the pandemic, “On me recalled that a film festival is not just a series of flashbacks of new films, it is also people, reunited and usually stuck together, like one under the cinematic groove.


A native of Windsor, Ontario, Ian Austen was educated in Toronto, lives in Ottawa and has reported on Canada for The New York Times for the past 16 years. Follow him on Twitter at @ianrausten.


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