Alberta has decided to walk back its “callous” decision to do away with pandemic-related public health measures.
Earlier this month, the province announced some of the loosest COVID-19 restrictions on the continent, sparking backlash from local doctors, national experts, and Canada’s federal health minister. The plan was to remove all quarantine requirements and mask mandates by August 16. That meant anyone with COVID wouldn’t be legally required to isolate at home for at least 10 days, and masks were not required, even on public transit and in taxis.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s top doctor, announced on Friday she is delaying the plan by six weeks. Provincial mask orders will stay in effect for public transit, symptomatic testing will be widely available, and isolation will continue to be legally required for anyone who has COVID-19 symptoms or tests positive for the virus.
Hinshaw said she made her decision based on rising COVID-related hospitalizations in Alberta and emerging and concerning evidence out of the U.S. that shows the Delta variant can cause severe illness among children. (Children under 12 aren’t eligible for vaccination yet.)
The top doctor also apologized for the way she presented previous announcements.
“I am sorry that the way I have communicated about these changes and the rapid pace of them has caused distress,” Hinshaw told reporters Friday.
Dr. Joe Vipond, a Calgary-based emergency room physician, previously told VICE World News “nobody could believe that a government would be so callous towards its own citizens in a time of pandemic.”
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and his team have changed their minds while Canada grapples with a preventable fourth wave, largely driven by the Delta variant and unvaccinated people. New infections have increased by about 60 percent in Canada since last week, with the country now reporting 14,737 active cases.
“The latest national surveillance data indicate that a fourth wave is underway in Canada and that cases are plotting along a strong resurgence trajectory,” Canada’s chief medical officer Dr. Theresa Tam said on Thursday.
More than two-thirds of Canadians have received at least one dose of a two-dose vaccine, according to Our World in Data. Experts say that while vaccines are the main way out of the pandemic, it’s possible we need more than 85 percent of people vaccinated to reach herd immunity.
Alberta has one of the lowest rates of fully vaccinated people in the country, behind Nunavut and Saskatchewan. The province has some of the loosest restrictions in the country, with many of them removed on July 1 in time for the Calgary Stampede, a popular cowboy-themed festival and rodeo in Calgary. Bars, clubs, restaurants, theatres, and other venues are all open at full capacity, and masks aren’t mandatory.
As cases rise rapidly, Hinshaw urged people to get vaccines. “Before the school year begins I’m asking all eligible Albertans to get vaccinated as soon as possible,” she said.
But Kenney has repeatedly said he won't mandate vaccines.
The premier also rejects “vaccine passports,” he said. The measure, already implemented in Manitoba and effective Sept. 1 in Quebec, is meant to limit access to venues and amenities to vaccinated people, so that unvaccinated people can’t increase the risk of infection in public spaces.
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