Alberta’s top doctor says COVID-19 outbreak stems from removal of restrictions

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Crowds of people gather near food trucks at the Calgary Stampede on July 10. Alberta dropped all public health restrictions over the summer, sparking another wave of COVID-19.

Leah Hennel / The Globe and Mail

Alberta’s top health official said the fourth wave of COVID-19 that flooded intensive care units and forced widespread surgery cancellations was triggered when the province dropped all public health restrictions during the summer.

Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, also said she regretted her announcement in late July that the province would treat COVID-19 as an “endemic” respiratory illness like the flu. She said this mistakenly gave some people the impression that the pandemic was over, which, she added, made it more difficult to advocate for additional public health measures.

She made the comments in a presentation to family doctors that was recorded Monday night and then posted to social media.

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“I think this trajectory [of COVID-19 infections] was fixed when we removed all public health restrictions in early July, ”Dr. Hinshaw said in a presentation to primary care networks in Alberta.

Alberta doctors warn province’s health care system could soon fail

“If you look at the experiences of all the different provinces across the country, the ones that have maintained restrictions at the grassroots level to handle interactions and close contact are the ones that don’t see the significant impact, and those of us. that remove them. are the ones who have seen the significant and very steep increase.

Dr. Hinshaw gave her presentation as provincial health data showed Alberta surpassed its previous record of COVID-19 patients in intensive care; there were 212 people with the coronavirus in intensive care late Monday, up from a peak of 182 in May. Internal projections showed that number could rise to 310 within two weeks and there is no indication that the rate of infections or hospital admissions has slowed.

The province lifted most of its COVID-19 restrictions on Canada Day, then on July 28, Dr Hinshaw announced the province would end widespread testing, contact tracing and mandatory isolation as she stepped away from treating COVID-19 as a public health emergency. She pointed to data from Britain to claim vaccines caused COVID-19 infections to be ‘decoupled’ from hospital admissions, meaning the province could resist an increase in cases with an impact. limited to hospitals.

She has since admitted those changes were premature and said on Monday that provincial data showed the theory was not coming to fruition within two weeks of the late July announcement. Dr Hinshaw acknowledged that the announcement of the tests created a narrative that the pandemic was ending.

“Whether or not that was my intention, what was heard at the end of July was: COVID is over, we can go away and ignore it,” she said. “It had repercussions and I deeply regret the way it turned out.”

The government has since delayed plans to end testing, tracing and isolation, and this month announced the return of a province-wide mask warrant, a curfew on alcohol sales and an incentive to pay people $ 100 for the vaccine.

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On Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney’s office said it was meeting with cabinet and caucus colleagues to discuss the current COVID-19 situation and had canceled a trip to northern Alberta.

With donations to his party behind the opposition NDP this year, the Prime Minister was due to attend a cocktail party and fundraising dinner of $ 1,500 per person at the Fort McMurray Golf Club on Wednesday night.

In addition, Mr. Kenney was scheduled to speak at the oil sands conference and trade show on Alberta’s place in an increasingly climate-driven world. A first draft of the government’s program, released to media last week, also indicated that a United Conservative Party caucus retreat would also be held in Fort McMurray on Wednesday and Thursday. This reference was removed in a later version of the government agenda.

The Prime Minister has been largely absent from the public eye over the past month as COVID-19 infections and hospital admissions skyrocket, in addition to holding a press conference a week ago and a half.

Mr. Kenney has been pressured to impose a mandatory vaccination passport system, similar to what has been put in place in other provinces, but the Prime Minister has repeatedly ruled it out. Instead, the province is creating a voluntary system that will allow people to prove their immunization status if a business asks for it.

However, Health Minister Tyler Shandro appeared to leave the door open to a mandatory vaccination passport last week, saying the government will be monitoring how these policies work elsewhere and cannot predict what the province will do.

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Mr Shandro’s press secretary Steve Buick suggested in an email that Dr Hinshaw’s comments on Monday were no different from what she had previously said publicly.

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau criticized Mr. Kenney and Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe for rejecting vaccine passports and failing to properly manage the pandemic.

“I feel bad – really bad – for the people of Alberta and Saskatchewan who have stepped up to do the right thing,” Trudeau told reporters in Richmond, British Columbia on Tuesday. “… And because of leadership that will not commit to keeping them safe now, or even protecting the economy in the right way, they face greater risks.” “

Alberta and Saskatchewan have the highest rates of COVID-19 infection, hospitalization and death among the provinces. Their per capita infection rates are more than six times higher than in Ontario, and the death rate in the past two weeks is more than twice as high.

The two Prairie provinces also have the lowest vaccination rates in Canada.

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