Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, set to meet Monday with his COVID-19 steering committee amid an alarming rise in cases, has suggested more restrictions are coming but a “holistic” approach to the pandemic will continue.
Kenney was to leave isolation later Monday, after coming into contact with a person with COVID-19. He tested negative.
On Saturday, in a Zoom call with the Canada India Foundation, Kenney said new measures are likely coming but he continued to reject a sweeping shutdown of businesses and community activity as intrusive and ineffective.
“We will likely have to take some more restrictive measures, given the current direction of things here. Because ultimately our goal is to protect the health-care system from being overwhelmed while minimizing damage to the broader social, economic, mental, emotional and physical health of society,” said Kenney.
“(But) our point is we are not exclusively focused on COVID-19. We understand that for every policy in response to it, there are unintended consequences.
“So we’ve taken a holistic approach, and we believe that that has been effective.”
Over the past month, Alberta’s COVID-19 case numbers have increased while front-line doctors and epidemiologists have called for a shutdown of businesses and activity to reverse the trend.
Daily caseloads have more than doubled in recent weeks. In the first week of November, there were just under 600 new cases a day. On Sunday, Alberta led the entire country with 1,584 new cases, despite having a fraction of the population of Ontario and Quebec.
Kenney’s government shut down many retail businesses, restaurants, recreation centres and schools during the first wave of COVID-19 in the spring. Most were able to reopen in May and June with health restrictions. Schools reopened in the fall.
In recent weeks, Kenney’s United Conservative government and Alberta Health Services have taken targeted steps by limiting public gatherings in areas including Edmonton and Calgary and forcing bars and restaurants to stop serving booze by 10 p.m. and close by 11.
Alberta’s Opposition NDP said Monday it is calling for an emergency legislature debate about the crisis, and accused Kenney of failing to address the core health issues of COVID-19, such as instituting a provincewide mandate on wearing masks in public indoor spaces.
Many municipalities have such mask mandates in place, but the NDP says seniors are particularly vulnerable in areas that don’t have them.
Alberta is the only province in Canada without such a mandate.
“This is the greatest public health threat we have faced in our lives,” said NDP Leader Rachel Notley in a news release.
“When faced with great challenges, Albertans are always willing to roll up their sleeves and work together, but to do so they need leadership and a road map. So far, the premier has provided neither.”
Kenney’s government also had to deal with mixed messaging over the weekend.
Associate Health Minister Jason Luan told a video townhall Friday that the province is waiting to see how much the health system can take in terms of COVID-19 numbers before it moves ahead on restrictions.
Luan backtracked Sunday, posting on social media that his townhall comments were “not accurate.”
Luan also stated: “I am not a spokesperson or involved in any decision-making around introducing new restrictions or hospital capacity.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 23, 2020.
Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press