Opposition NDP calls for public inquiry into Alberta's COVID-19 response
Kenney says strategy to lift remaining restrictions was recommended by Hinshaw
Alberta's Opposition New Democratic Party called Tuesday for a public inquiry into Premier Jason Kenney and his government's handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
Meanwhile, in Kenney's first public remarks since last week's announcement that all remaining health restrictions would be lifted, the premier said the strategy was motivated by the province's chief medical officer of health, not by the Alberta government.
When asked at a news conference Tuesday about Alberta's move to end isolation requirements, contact tracing and asymptomatic testing, Kenney says the decision was based on science and data.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw had proposed the plan to a cabinet committee in July, and ministers approved the plan without modification, Kenney said. Neither Kenney nor Health Minister Tyler Shandro were present at last week's news conference when Hinshaw announced the changes.
WATCH | Premier Jason Kenney responds to COVID restriction rollbacks
NDP deputy leader Sarah Hoffman said an independent review is necessary.
"It is clear that Albertans can no longer trust their own government to keep them safe," Hoffman said Tuesday.
Alberta is one of the first jurisdictions in Canada to announce it will lift isolation requirements this month for people who test positive for COVID-19, even as cases continue to grow.
Hoffman said a public inquiry should be modelled after Ontario's 2002 inquiry into tainted drinking water in Walkerton. The outbreak killed seven people and made 2,300 sick.
To date, 2,328 Albertans with COVID-19 have died. More than 235,000 people have tested positive for the virus since March 2020.
"Unless we pull back the curtain and do a full analysis and show everybody what happened, the risk of making those same mistakes — should we have another pandemic or another public health crisis — continue," Hoffman said.
Multiple protests have taken place in both Edmonton and Calgary since last Wednesday's announcement.
As of Thursday, quarantine for close contacts is recommended but no longer mandated. Contact tracers will no longer notify close contacts, but they will continue to investigate cases in high-risk settings such as continuing care facilities.
The government will further relax the rules on Aug. 16. Isolation will be strongly recommended, but not required, for people who test positive for COVID-19, while testing will be done only when needed to help direct patient care decisions.
Protesters want changes sooner
Some people protesting the UCP government's handling of the pandemic outside the Alberta legislature on Tuesday said they want immediate action.
"The UCP's announcement last week is really mind-boggling," said parent Dia DaCosta. "It makes me sick to my stomach."
DaCosta, whose sons are age five and 10, said any push for an inquiry must be accompanied by advocacy to keep testing and tracing in place. She feels more anxious about sending her unvaccinated children to school this fall.
Eight-year-old Alexis Clark was so excited to return, in person, to New Horizons charter school in Sherwood Park. She has juvenile idiopathic arthritis, and contracting COVID-19 could aggravate her condition and possibly cause permanent damage to her joints or eyes, her mom Danielle said.
Now, Alexis isn't sure if she'll be using her new backpack come September.
"We're just utterly horrified and saddened," her mother said.
Hoffman's call for an inquiry came as the government tussled with critics over the release of a third-party report that looked into how Alberta handled the first wave of COVID-19 last year. The delayed report was submitted to the province in February.
In an email, Harrison Fleming, deputy press secretary for the premier's office, said the report would be released this week. He also accused the Opposition of politicizing the pandemic.
"What the NDP wants is a backward-looking, political circus that serves nobody," he said. "We're focused on moving on from COVID, rebuilding the economy, and creating jobs and opportunities for all Albertans."