The Current

Alberta protests against COVID measures a 'slap in the face' to health-care workers: doctor

Hundreds attended anti-lockdown protests in Alberta in recent days, even as the province's per-capita COVID-19 case count became the highest in North America, and Premier Jason Kenney announced new restrictions.

Events where virus could spread 'just adding to the burden': Dr. Gabriel Fabreau

Protesters against public health restrictions gathered at several locations around Calgary over the weekend. (Submitted)

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Large anti-lockdown protests in Alberta are "a slap in the face" to health-care workers fighting the third wave, says a doctor in Calgary.

"We know that there's a significant probability that that event is going to become a super-spreader event, and that those people or people that attended rallies such as that, will become our patients," said Dr. Gabriel Fabreau, an internist at the Peter Lougheed Centre in Calgary, and an assistant professor at the University of Calgary.

"We're doing everything we can to save every life we can … anybody and everyone, irrespective of their beliefs, but that's just adding to the burden," he told The Current's Matt Galloway. 

"When everyone's working as hard as they are, it's a bit of a slap in the face."

Fabreau said he had to send three patients to the ICU on Sunday night, and tell their families the news over the phone.

"Knowing that all of that is preventable with better adherence to public health measures earlier — you know, it hurts," he said.

Hundreds in Alberta defy public health orders as COVID-19 cases surge

The National

1 month ago
3:22
Despite restrictions on gatherings in Alberta, hundreds defied the rules at protests and even a rodeo. Meanwhile, Premier Jason Kenney faces calls to take more action as he suspended the provincial legislature. 3:22

Alberta's per-capita COVID-19 case count became the highest in North America this week, with an all-time high of 22,920 active COVID-19 cases recorded in the province at the weekend. On Tuesday, the seven-day average of daily new cases also broke records when it hit 1,973 cases.

Over the weekend, hundreds of people attended a rodeo 30 kilometres south of Red Deer, Alta., billed as a protest against COVID-19 restrictions. Alberta Health Services said it is exploring its legal options over the event, which contravened public health orders banning outdoor gatherings of more than 10 people. 

On Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney announced that the fine for violating public health measures will double to $2,000. The maximum fine for serious offences remains $100,000.

He also announced new public-health measures Tuesday evening, intended to curb the spread in schools, places of worship, businesses and private gatherings.

"If exponential growth of COVID-19 in Alberta continues, it would begin to push the outer limits of even our surged and expanded hospital capacity within weeks," Kenney said Tuesday.

"We must not and we will not force our doctors and nurses to decide who gets care and who doesn't."

Dr. Gabriel Fabreau says he recently treated someone who hid COVID-19 symptoms when going for surgery. 1:19

Fabreau said he's relieved stronger measures are being introduced to slow the spread, but also frustrated they weren't introduced sooner. 

"No matter what happens now, we know there's a lag so it'll be another two weeks of increasing hospitalizations, and we worry about the sustainability of that," he said.

Kenney rejects 'tin-foil hat' conspiracies

Dr. Gabriel Fabreau says he's relieved that stronger measures are being introduced. (FaceTime)

On a Facebook livestream Tuesday night, Kenney said he had received a message from organizers of last weekend's rodeo, who described him as "tyrannical" and accused him of violating human rights for limiting public gatherings in the pandemic. 

Kenney described the message as "tin-foil hat," and said people buying into "insane" conspiracy theories are not a part of the United Conservative Party's base.

Melanee Thomas, a professor of political science at the University of Calgary, said that "saying it that way doesn't help much, but also it is pretty clear that that is part of the base."

She pointed to a public letter against public health measures in April, signed by several UCP MLA backbenchers. At the time Kenney said dissent within UCP caucus was OK, as long as MLAs did not break health restrictions themselves. 

During Tuesday's livestream, the premier said he has been "viciously attacked" for tolerating skepticism and debate about government overreach, but that he still welcomes differing views as long as they do not pose a risk to public health.

Thomas said "the positioning that he's taking, the language that's being used" suggest politics might be at play. 

"They strike me as much more about political goals and maintaining internal party unity than they are about acting on advice from public health experts, and epidemiologists to actually get it under control," she said.

Kenney has faced criticism for delaying the implementation of restrictions, relying on personal responsibility, and failing to enforce measures when they are put in place. 

Melanee Thomas highlighted resistance to COVID-19 restrictions within the premier's own party. (David Bell/CBC)

Tim Caulfield, Canada research chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta, thinks that a "confused patchwork approach to policy has frustrated Albertans."

That makes it harder to tackle the pandemic because "those that are not following the restrictions and those that are protesting against the restrictions are clearly embracing misinformation," he said.

He told Galloway that "being frustrated, feeling distress, feeling untrustworthy towards your government means you're more likely to embrace misinformation."

He warned that polarization of public opinion could be one of the legacies of the pandemic across all of Canada.

"Early days, we very much were in it together, but we have become more polarized," he said.

"Still, let's always remember most Canadians... support vaccination, support these lockdowns, want to get through this together."


Written by Padraig Moran, with files from CBC News. Prodcued by Alex Zabjek and Rachel Levy-McLaughlin.

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