Politics

Ottawa promises to step up after Alberta asks for help with airlifting COVID-19 patients

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says the federal government will pitch in after Alberta asked for help with airlifting COVID-19 patients, ICU-registered nurses and respiratory therapists.

Alberta's devastating fourth wave of the pandemic reached 20,304 active cases on Wednesday

Dr. Ayesha Khory is pictured in the moments before intubating a COVID-19 patient in an Alberta intensive care unit. (AHS)

Public Safety Minister Bill Blair says the federal government will pitch in after Alberta asked for help with airlifting COVID-19 patients, ICU-registered nurses and respiratory therapists.

Alberta's Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver formally requested federal aid in a letter to Blair Tuesday.

Alberta's hospitals are struggling to keep pace with a devastating fourth wave of the pandemic. The province recorded 20,304 active cases on Wednesday — more than twice as many as any other province or territory.

Blair tweeted today that the federal government will answer Alberta's call for help.

Blair said federal assistance could come in the form of Canadian Armed Forces' medical resources "and/or aero-medical evacuation capability," Canadian Red Cross resources and other federal health resources.

"Our Liberal government will always be there to support Canadians in their time of need," he tweeted.

Military prepares to deploy

The Canadian Armed Forces also sent out a media statement confirming that the CAF is preparing to deploy assistance "as part of a whole of government effort to alleviate pressure on the Alberta health care system."

The statement says the military has been asked to provide up to eight ICU nurses and air transport for critical-care patients — for both transport within Alberta and between provinces.

The CAF says the aeromedical transport should be deployable within 24 hours, and the ICU nurses within 72 hours.

"The CAF is looking forward to helping the people of Alberta and our teams have already begun liaising and further planning," the statement reads.

Alberta's ICU capacity is sitting at 87 per cent. Without the added surge beds — which health care workers have said are not adequately staffed — the province would be at 169 per cent of its baseline ICU capacity. 

There are now 302 patients in intensive care in Alberta. The vast majority of them are being treated for COVID-19 — the province's highest number of ICU patients since the pandemic began.

Surgeries have been cancelled across the province to free up health care workers to deal with the crisis. 

Blair's tweet does not say when the airlifts will begin. The minister said requests for assistance would be approved "expeditiously."

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