Alberta’s health minister says the province won’t further ease COVID-19 health restrictions for now — and he says it’s Ottawa’s fault.
Tyler Shandro says if the federal government had negotiated a better deal for vaccines, Alberta and other provinces would have more people vaccinated by now and, with that, more latitude to lift restrictions.
“We would not be in this situation if Ottawa had delivered the doses and not left us waiting at the back of the line,” Shandro told a news conference Monday.
He said other countries are getting more vaccines under deals negotiated with transnational drug manufacturers and noted that the province has administered more than 487,000 doses since mid-December.
“Alberta has held up our end of the bargain. Ottawa didn’t’,” said Shandro.
A cabinet subcommittee of Premier Jason Kenney’s United Conservative government met Monday to discuss whether restrictions that were last loosened two weeks ago should be further eased.
Kenney said late last week that numbers suggested it might be safe to open up the economy a bit more since hospitalizations were under 300 and falling.
Shandro said hospitalizations are at 280 but noted that figure has been steadily rising and is likely to soon surpass the 300 key benchmark.
“There will be no easing of any restrictions at this time,” he said.
“This is the safe move. It’s the smart move to make for our province right now and it’s absolutely necessary to help us avoid a third wave that would take more lives and once again put more pressure on the hospital system.”
The next reopening stage would have included relaxed rules on worship services. Doors would have reopened on entertainment venues, including museums and casinos, and adult team sports would have resumed.
Restrictions on indoor gatherings would have been eased as well, but remain banned.
Shandro noted that other worrisome numbers have been escalating.
Daily COVID-19 infections were below 300 in recent weeks but have been ticking up steadily and have been well above 400 for almost the last week.
On Monday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, reported 456 new cases.
Of more concern is the rise in variants, which are more contagious than the original novel coronavirus and can potentially overrun a health system if left unchecked.
Alberta reported 110 new variant cases and has 1,711 in total, more than any province, including Ontario and Quebec.
Alberta’s variants have doubled in the last two weeks and make up 16 per cent of total active cases.
The Opposition said Kenney made the right call in delaying changes, but said his government still needs to show Albertans the modelling data used in making decisions.
“A third wave is rising, but the decisions the government makes this week will determine how large and how deadly that wave is,” said NDP health critic David Shepherd.
“Now more than ever, Jason Kenney needs to come clean with Albertans about what he knows and what his intentions are.”
Alberta is just emerging from a second round of health restrictions it implemented in mid-December. Initial restrictions were put in last spring during the pandemic’s first wave.
In late January, Kenney announced there would be four steps in reopening the economy, tied mainly to hospitalizations, and has gone ahead with the first two phases.
Retailers, restaurants, youth sports and in-person worship services are open with capacity restrictions. Outdoor get-togethers are capped at 10 people.
Kenney has faced demands, including from members of his own caucus, to ease up on the rules. Opponents say the restrictions unfairly impact the financial and emotional well-being of Albertans.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 22, 2021.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press