Today’s new COVID-19 restrictions continue to fail Albertans

Today’s new COVID-19 restrictions continue to fail Albertans

November 24, 2020

Today’s new COVID-19 restrictions continue to fail Albertans

As per today’s government mandated restrictions and declaration of a state of public health emergency, Alberta has become a place where family members are not allowed to visit one another, but individuals and households can continue to go to casinos, bars or restaurants. Alberta has become the last province to enact a mask mandate, but it only pertains to indoor workplaces, and only in Edmonton, Calgary and surrounding areas.

On November 6th, Alberta Health Services announced they would temporarily cease contract tracing for the majority of Albertans infected with COVID-19, excluding health care workers, minors and individuals who live or work within congregate or communal facilities. Instead, that responsibility was offloaded onto individuals to notify anyone with whom they came in close contact. Then yesterday, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr Hinshaw indicated that they will be abandoning all contact tracing for cases over 10 days due to a lack of capacity. Alberta has effectively lost all control over understanding where infections in this province are coming from.

“These new restrictions are being put into place based on where transmission is or isn’t happening,” says Sandra Azocar, Executive Director of Friends of Medicare. “How can the government possibly claim that they are making data-based policy decisions when we have virtually no provincial contact tracing data for the last three weeks?”

Despite repeated calls from Alberta’s physicians and front line workers over the past month, urging the government to shut down the province, the restrictions announced today were complicated and piecemeal. If this government had listened to those who are working in our health care sector, and who bear daily witness to the toll that this pandemic is taking on Albertans and their families, we could have avoided the disastrous place we find ourselves in today. Instead, the Premier of this province has been effectively missing in action since his last announcement of feeble COVID-19 restrictions, and a lack of leadership has been in full display for the past month. 

This government must stop perpetuating the false dichotomy between economy and our health. 492 Albertans have died from COVID-19, and the loss of these human lives, and the toll this has taken on their surviving families, friends and communities has been judged secondary to the impacts that restrictions may have on businesses. If this government were truly interested in protecting Albertans’ “lives and livelihoods,” they would have taken the recommendations of those who care for us, and shut the province down two weeks ago. If they were concerned about the toll restrictions may have, they would do more to support Albertans to stay home, including ensuring isolation pay for all workers and supports for businesses to stay afloat.

“Premier Kenney's divisive framing of those Albertans who have been advocating for lockdown measures, claiming they don't have consideration or sympathy for people whose livelihoods are dependent on their businesses, specifically women and refugees, is disingenuous at best,” says Azocar. “That kind of dismissal of Albertans’ concerns only serves to divide people rather than building on the collective understanding that we’re all trying to survive this pandemic, together. Where is the similar concern for the many racialized women working in continuing care settings, and on the front-lines of our health care system?”

The Premier’s concern for our Charter rights are also misplaced: governments can, and should enact reasonable limits on our rights for the sake of public safety. Delaying restrictions will mean, by the Premier’s own admission, that the government will have to further limit those rights in the long run. It is imperative that at this critical junction, we are all empowered to act collectively for the wellbeing of everyoneKeeping each other safe and alive must be our paramount concern.

Mr. Kenney was right in describing the actions taken by governments across the world in an attempt to control the spread of this pandemic as “unprecedented.” But so too is this pandemic, which has become our global reality for now nearly a year. We are living in an ongoing world-wide public health crisis, one which has been worsening in Alberta daily, and the people of this province need and deserve real leadership to address it. 

This government and Premier Kenney have all but lost the trust of Albertans. It has become clear that Albertans need the Chief Medical Officer of Health to become an independent officer of the legislature so that all of us can see and understand what recommendations her office is really making to protect our health and safety, instead of only those that this government wants us to see.

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