The Worst of the Fourth Wave Is Over in Canada. The Prairies Are Still a Mess.

Alberta and Saskatchewan, as well as the Northwest Territories, still have frighteningly high rates of active COVID-19 infections.
Anya Zoledziowski
Toronto, CA
October 13, 2021, 4:13pm
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; covid in Canada; fourth wave
Canada is on track to beating the fourth pandemic wave, but the Prairies and the Northwest Territories have a long way to go. David Kawai/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Most Canadians have managed to stave off a really bad fourth wave of COVID—unless they’re in the prairies.

On Friday, Canada’s top doctor, Theresa Tam, confirmed the fourth wave is no longer getting worse and new infections will likely decline in the coming weeks. 

“With the level of vaccine coverage that we have achieved in Canada to date, we are much better protected going into the respiratory infection season,” Tam said. Basic health mandates and physical distancing could reduce the impact of COVID-19 going forward, she added.  

As of Wednesday, nearly 80 percent of Canadians were fully vaccinated, and active cases are levelling off across the country—a little more than 37,000 nationwide—which is why there’s “room for optimism” in Canada, Tam said. Vaccines are also proving to be super effective. Experts have said most vaccinated Canadians don’t need to worry about booster shots yet. 

Despite the good news, infection rates remain “exceedingly high” in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

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Alberta has more than three times the number of active COVID cases than Ontario, but less than three times the population. 

As of Wednesday, the province recorded 346 active cases for every 100,000 people, while Saskatchewan had 378. The next highest figure was in New Brunswick, where the rate was 140 per 100,000. (Notably, First Nations in Canada had a combined rate of 377.) 

Alberta and Saskatchewan also have among the lowest vaccination rates (71 percent and 69.5 percent of residents are fully vaccinated) and loosest public health restrictions. 

In the early days of summer, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney did away with all COVID-19 restrictions, including having to wear masks indoors, as part of his “Best Summer Ever” plan. With vaccines available for all, Kenney said, Alberta would be open for summer. 

"Alberta was reckless in dropping all restrictions and declaring the pandemic over… that was a grave misstep," Dr. Ilan Schwartz, a physician in Edmonton, told CBC. "What made things much, much worse is the inability to respond to the data that demonstrated a rising number of cases."

On Tuesday, the province announced that a 14-year-old became the youngest person in the province to die of COVID. Alberta has also had to cancel non-emergency surgeries, including those for cancer; COVID-related deaths skyrocketed in the summer; and the province repeatedly broke records for the number of patients admitted into the ICU at any one time. 

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Kenney and his team, including Alberta’s Chief Medical Doctor Deena Hinshaw, have since apologized for acting like the pandemic was over.

"I know that we had all hoped this summer that we could put COVID behind us once and for all, that was certainly my hope and I said that very clearly. It is now clear that we were wrong, and for that I apologize,” Kenney said at the time. 

A similar situation is playing out in Saskatchewan, where death rates are the worst in the country and ICUs are at capacity. While Premier Scott Moe has refused to apologize for his handling of COVID-19, the province’s top doctor said a slowdown in vaccine uptake and the abandonment of basic public health measures caused the fourth wave there. 

Saskatchewan and Alberta have the third and fourth lowest vaccine uptakes in Canada, behind Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. The Northwest Territories are currently in the throes of a fourth wave, too, and currently have the highest COVID-19 rate in the country, mostly as a result of a “rapid and vicious spread of the Delta variant” in under-immunized regions, Dr. Kami Kandola, the chief public health officer for the Northwest Territories, told reporters.

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These realities have forced leaders to implement vaccine passports and reintroduce masks indoors. 

“We’ve allowed the fourth wave to gain so much momentum already that it’s going to take time for these measures to take their full impact,” University of Saskatchewan professor and public health expert Dr. Cordell Neudorf told Post Media. 

Manitoba, also a prairie province, managed to stave off the fourth wave by introducing vaccine passports early on (in June), which encouraged more people to get vaccinated faster, while Ontario and Quebec—which used to be epicentres of COVID-19 in Canada—have kept public health measures in place and acted quickly when new infections started to creep up. 

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