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Premier and chief medical officer warn peak of COVID-19 outbreak may be weeks away

Alberta's premier and chief medial officer warned the public Wednesday that the province may not reach the peak of the current coronavirus outbreak for weeks, and that drastic measures to curb the spread of the virus may be needed until the end of May. 

Coronavirus will pose 'very real threat' to public safety for the next two or three months, Jason Kenney says

"We must begin to prepare ourselves for a time of adversity unlike any we have seen since the 1930s in this province," Alberta premier Kenney said in an address to the legislature on March 18, 2020. 23:48

Alberta's premier and chief medical officer warned the public Wednesday that the province may not reach the peak of the current coronavirus outbreak for weeks, and that drastic measures to curb the spread of the virus may be needed until the end of May. 

The province reported 22 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, and Premier Jason Kenney cautioned the peak of the outbreak may not be seen for another four or five weeks.

Alberta has recorded no deaths so far, but Kenney said Wednesday that fatalities are all-but inevitable. He said his duty as premier is to offer hope but also to be honest with the public.

Many of the social distancing measures that have been implemented in the province are likely to be needed until the end of May, Kenney said.

"I can't say that with absolutely certainty," the premier said at a news conference. "Let's hope we get some very lucky breaks. Let's hope we reach the peak earlier and it affects fewer people than we are projecting.

"But, to be realistic, based on the velocity of this disease around the world, we can expect this to pose a very real threat to public safety for at least the next two or three months."

Daycares, schools, colleges and universities and most other public facilities are closed, and public gatherings have been limited to no more than 50 people — all in an effort to limit community transmission of the virus.

Dr. Deena Hinshsaw, the province's chief medical officer of health, told a news conference Wednesday that six cases are suspected to have been transmitted within the province, which has seen the number of cases climb from one on March 5 to 119 in less than two weeks.

"COVID-19 has forced us to make some extremely difficult decisions," Hinshaw said. "We have had to weigh lives against livelihoods. And in order to save lives, I have had to make recommendations that will take away livelihoods from many Albertans over the next several weeks to months. There are no easy solutions to the situation we are in, not only in Alberta but around the world."

Cases have been identified in all zones of the province:

  • 83 cases in the Calgary zone
  • 27 cases in the Edmonton zone
  • Four cases in the North zone
  • Three cases in the Central zone
  • Two cases in the South zone

Fatalities ahead, Kenney warns

Using data gathered from other countries that have been hit harder and earlier, modelling projects that the first wave of the outbreak could reach its peak in Alberta around mid-April, Hinshaw said. 

The projections assume that Alberta is able to control the spread of the virus, Hinshaw said, and officials expect another wave of the illness in the fall.

Six people with COVID-19 in Alberta are currently in hospital, three of them in ICU beds. The rest are recovering at home.

Alberta's public health system has conducted almost 15,000 tests for the virus so far, Hinshaw said, more than any other jurisdiction.

The chief medical officer of health's daily updates have become a ritual for many Albertans anxious for news about the spread of coronavirus in the province.

Thousands of people who seem to think of little else these days have memorized the catch phrases, such as "social distancing" and "community transmission" and "flattening the curve."

Kenney said Alberta has enough ventilators, hospital beds and ICU beds to cope with COVID-19, even though the peak of the outbreak is likely still weeks away.

Hinshaw said several recent cases involved people who returned from outside the country and followed the advice to self-isolate once back home. As a result, she said, few of their contacts were put at risk.

"If you are self-isolating right now, let me say thank you. Your actions are life saving for others."

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