Edmonton

Plan to lift COVID-19 measures like being 'abandoned' by government, say immunocompromised Albertans

Some immunocompromised Albertans are irked that the provincial government plans to soon lift public health restrictions, including the restrictions exemption program — which offered some comfort to those more at-risk of COVID-19.

Alberta set to announce plan for repealing public health measures this coming week

Ian Wiebe, left, is a lawyer in Edmonton with terminal colon cancer. Stacy McFarlane, right, shown with her partner, is a lawyer in Calgary with Type 1 diabetes. (Submitted by Ian Wiebe and Stacy McFarlane)

Ian Wiebe isn't sure how much time he has left.

The 38-year-old Edmonton lawyer has stage four terminal colon cancer and will leave behind a young son, his wife, other family and friends. Because of his cancer, the threat of the novel coronavirus has severely restricted what he and his family can do together safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

One lifeline for Wiebe was Alberta's Restrictions Exemption Program (REP). He said being in environments where he knew the people around him were vaccinated made him feel safer to go out once in a while. 

"It was such a relief when it was being implemented," he told CBC News. 

"It created a situation where my wife and I were able to say, at least occasionally, 'Hey, let's go out for a meal, let's go to a place that we really like.'"

Last Thursday, Premier Jason Kenney announced that a roadmap for lifting pandemic restrictions should be coming this week — despite the Omicron variant still having a significant impact on the health-care system.

The announcement came amid pressure from United Conservative MLAs to remove various public health restrictions.

The REP was put in place in September 2021 to encourage more Albertans to get vaccinated and reduce the spread of COVID.

Under the program, to enter businesses or public facilities such as restaurants or recreation facilities, a person must show proof of double vaccination, a privately paid negative rapid test result, or documentation of a medical exemption.

However, the degree to which vaccines protect against infection generally has dropped with the Omicron variant, which became the dominant COVID strain in the last few months. This has prompted calls to end the programs like the REP.

In Alberta, it's not clear exactly how much protection vaccines are currently offering against COVID infections. Since Jan. 10, the province has restricted access to PCR testing only to people who are at risk of a severe health outcome from COVID or who live or work in high-risk settings.

That means provincial cases counts and infection rates are no longer an accurate representation of trends in the province.

Wiebe worries the province is giving up, noting that the current restrictions aren't overly restrictive anyway. 

"It would make much more sense to keep the restrictions that we have, which still allow people to go about and do basically what they want," he said.

"It just feels like maintaining the REP is a way to look out for each other, and to keep on doing that at least until [Alberta's] actually in a situation where cases are low, where transmission is low."

There are many things Wiebe said he had wanted to do before he was gone, but are simply not possible — something he he knows he's not alone in.

Stacy McFarlane, a 37-year-old lawyer in Calgary, lives with Type 1 diabetes — and has for more than 30 years. Her health condition has limited her ability to enjoy times with her partner, friends and family during the pandemic.

Much like Wiebe, the REP gave her more comfort in spending time outside her home.

"Lots of people are tired of all the restrictions and just tired of the situation we're in. I am too," McFarlane said. "But it feels like being abandoned by the government."

It seems like many Albertans don't recognize how public health restrictions are "a minor inconvenience for so many people and a major, major safety measure for some people like me," she added.

Wiebe said he read a news story recently where he said UCP MLAs were saying they were done with COVID.

"I don't know what to say to that. COVID isn't finished with us," he said.

"The idea of [being] finished with COVID is like the attitude of a child. It's not an attitude of an adult living in society thinking about other people, thinking about people who might be at more risk than you."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Emily Pasiuk

Reporter

Emily Pasiuk is a reporter for CBC Edmonton who also covers news for CBC Saskatchewan. She has filmed two documentaries. Emily reported in Saskatchewan for three years before moving to Edmonton in 2020. Tips? Ideas? Reach her at emily.pasiuk@cbc.ca.

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