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EDITORIAL: Lack of provincial leadership highlighted in pandemic decisions

Alberta is a leader of many things in Canada, but the province has taken it to a new level during the pandemic.
December 16, 2021
Cartoon by Patrick LaMontagne/www.lamontagneart.com.

Alberta is a leader of many things in Canada, but the province has taken it to a new level during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Throughout the past 21 months, Alberta has led the way with the most confirmed COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people of any province.

It has also led the way in removing public health restrictions faster than other Canadian jurisdiction and taken a leading role in ignoring or avoiding public health advice from leading figures in the healthcare field.

Alberta has, however, taken a backseat when it comes to testing, having the lowest total per 100,000 people in the country. If not for Saskatchewan, Alberta would also have the lowest vaccination rate among any province.

And as cases of the novel coronavirus are once again climbing and the number of people in intensive care increasing, provincial leadership seems set to make the same mistakes.

In a Dec. 10 announcement, Premier Jason Kenney said there would be a “modest, common-sense relaxation” of public health recommendations to allow more people in Alberta to get together for Christmas.

He said he plans to gather with three fully vaccinated people from three different households – which wasn't permitted at the time he declared it – all but announcing a loosening of restrictions.

The province is planning to give out free rapid COVID tests – 11 million of which have been supplied by the federal government and about 5.5 million in provincial storage ­– but a push to increase the age eligibility to receive a COVID-19 vaccine booster has yet to succeed.

Across the country, provinces are acting in response to a jump in case counts.

Manitoba has asked the federal government for help in reducing pressure on its already strained healthcare system.

Several regions in Ontario have reintroduced new public health restrictions because of the Omicron variant and have also ramped up COVID-19 vaccine boosters.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has also issued projections that forecast a resurgence in COVID-19 cases, especially as the Omicron variant continues to rise.

If infections continue to increase at the current rate, the agency estimates there could be nearly 27,000 new cases a day by the middle of January.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada's chief public health officer, was quick to note on Dec. 10 that the model is a projection, but that continued following of public health recommendations and people getting vaccinated can curb the increasing rates.

In the Bow Valley, COVID-19 cases are also climbing.

The Town of Canmore has been hovering at about 50 confirmed cases, giving it an active case rate of about 300 per 100,000 people. The MD of Bighorn has a per 100,000 rate consistently around 200, but the Town of Banff continues to be among the lowest in the province with no active cases.

Schools have also been impacted, with Lawrence Grassi Middle School is in outbreak status with more than 10 active cases.

Elizabeth Rummel School is on outbreak alert since there have been between five and nine confirmed cases and Alpenglow Community School is also on alert due to two to four confirmed cases.

On Monday, Tam released the chief public health officer’s report on the state of public health in Canada 2021, A Vision to Transform Canada’s Public Health System. It warned, to little surprise, that Canada’s public healthcare is stretched and without further action, it will impact the country’s ability to act on future health crises.

The report stressed recruiting and retaining medical staff is vital, while more funding for public health is needed and better collaboration between government departments and organizations is needed.

Before the end of the weekend (Dec. 19), Canada will have recorded 30,000 COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic was declared in March 2020. In the six years of the Second World War, the country had about 42,000. It's also a faster rate of deaths than faced by Canadians in the First World War, where 62,000 were killed.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, roughly 3,300 Albertans have died from COVID-19.

In 2020, COVID-19 was the sixth most common cause of death for people in Alberta after 1,084 confirmed deaths. This year, it’s on pace to be the leading cause if compared to the 2020 numbers

The failure of provincial leadership has been a defining aspect of the pandemic.

Its shirking of responsibility will be its legacy.