Doctors, health-care advocates say Alberta's new restrictions are inadequate

Health-care workers are saying new restrictions introduced by Premier Jason Kenney on Tuesday don't do enough to slow the spread of the virus.

Alberta has the most active COVID-19 cases in Canada

A health-care worker makes his way down the middle of a pandemic response unit at the Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary on Nov. 14, 2020. Doctors and other health-care workers are saying restrictions announced by the province on Tuesday don't go far enough. (Submitted by Alberta Health Services/Leah Hennel/File photo)

Health-care workers are saying new restrictions introduced by Premier Jason Kenney on Tuesday don't do enough to slow the spread of the virus.

Mike Parker, president of the Health Sciences Association of Alberta, which represents 27,000 health-care workers in the province, says the measures fall short of what's needed. 

"Jason Kenney has once again put Albertans at grave risk due to his failure of leadership … the measures announced today are inadequate," Parker said in a release following Tuesday's announcement. 

Parker was among more than 400 doctors and health-care policy experts who had signed a letter to the premier on Sunday calling for a circuit-breaker lockdown, mask mandate, and mandatory paid sick leave. 

Indoor gatherings banned, restaurants stay open

Tuesday's measures and a renewed state of public health emergency saw a ban on indoor social gatherings, Grade 7 to 12 students moving to online learning and further mask mandates in the Calgary and Edmonton health zones — both cities already have mask mandates in place. 

It also allowed businesses like restaurants, bars and casinos to remain open, and religious gatherings to continue, subject to some restrictions.

Dr. Joe Vipond, an emergency room physician and founder of Masks4Canada, questioned why restaurants are being allowed to stay open and why, despite major contact tracing issues, the province still hasn't adopted the national COVID Alert app.

"If there is one overriding message is that these measures will improve transmission rates but likely not to the extent needed. This essentially will cause a deeper lockdown in the near future that will last longer than is necessary, and overall, gets a D+ from me," he wrote as part of a series of social media posts. 

Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an infectious disease researcher at the University of Alberta, delivered his concerns more succinctly in a single post. 

"Alberta priorities: schools closed, but bars stay open," he wrote. 

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?- Sandra Azocar, Friends of Medicare

Sandra Azocar, executive director of the public health-care non-profit Friends of Medicare, questioned the premier's assertion that the restrictions are based on an understanding of where transmission is taking place.

"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?" Azocar asked in a release. 

According to the province, 85 per cent of Alberta's more than 13,000 active COVID-19 cases have an unknown source.

"The truth is, we can't have targeted measures because we don't have any knowledge of where over 80 per cent of our cases are coming from," Dr. Tehseen Ladha, a pediatrician at the University of Alberta, said. 

On Monday, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said the province admitted defeat in terms of the government's already limited contact tracing. She said the team could no longer keep up and that thousands of Albertans would not receive calls as tracers focused on more recent or high-priority cases. 

"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," the Friends of Medicare release read. 

"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."

  • WATCH | Premier Jason Kenney announces new COVID-19 restrictions for Alberta

Alberta bypasses lockdown with new COVID-19 restrictions

3 years ago
Duration 2:37
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney bypassed a renewed lockdown as part of new COVID-19 restrictions, despite having more COVID-19 cases per capita than Ontario. Restaurants and retail can stay open with reduced capacity, though indoor private gatherings are banned and the school year has been altered again.

Alberta reported 1,115 new cases on Tuesday — the sixth consecutive day with new cases above 1,100. There were 348 patients in hospital, 66 in intensive care. Sixteen more people died, for a total of 492 deaths. The province has more active cases than Ontario, despite having one-third of Ontario's population.

Kenney said that Alberta isn't "involved in a chase after zero" cases, but is trying to slow the spread to keep the health-care system functioning. 

He said the province's response has been largely effective, touting that it was the first jurisdiction in Canada to introduce a contact-tracing app. That app has only been used in 20 cases since it was launched.

While health-care workers expressed concerns, business owners are now left assessing how the new restrictions will work in practice. 

"We're just trying to process now how we can enforce those rules and and keep our staff safe and make sure they're able to keep the customers safe," said Dandy Brewing Company co-founder Ben Leon.

He'll need to implement restrictions like ensuring everyone who sits together lives together, unless someone lives alone, in which case they can dine with two people in their cohort. 

Leon said he had hoped for an early lockdown, rather than risk business shutting down at Christmas, but said he and his staff will adapt. 

"Any sort of restriction on the holiday business is worse than sort of stopping and starting again," he said.

The Canadian Federation of Independent Business said it was pleased to see the restrictions continue to operate at reduced capacity, unlike wider shutdowns seen in Manitoba and Ontario — which both have lower active case counts than Alberta.

"A blanket lockdown would have pushed Alberta small businesses to the brink of closure. The new limited measures will give small business a fighting chance to surviving the holiday season. Its now up to Albertans to follow these new orders and do our part to slow the spread," CFIB Alberta provincial affairs director Annie Dormuth said in a release. 

The weeks leading up to Christmas, including Black Friday, are traditionally the most important time of year for retailers. But rising COVID numbers are threatening this season's profit margins. We talk to a Winnipeg bookstore owner about the impact of Manitoba's "code red" lockdown, then head to Alberta to find out why businesses there are bracing for the worst. Producer Anis Heydari takes a closer look at the rising restrictions and what they might mean for the bottom line, come Christmas time.

Both Calgary and Edmonton's mayors said their cities will be evaluating the impact of the restrictions on their programs and services. 

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said he'll be encouraging local employers to allow employees to work from home if possible.

"Ultimately, we as a city government will support the province in this work, we'll do so in every way we can, including enforcement, to ensure that we're keeping everybody safe," he said. 

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson said he empathizes with those who will have to make adjustments due to the restrictions, at a time when everyone's lives have already been significantly disrupted.

"This will be difficult, but it is critical that we do our part to keep our families and communities safe," he said in a release.