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Alberta's top doctor says new restrictions loom as COVID-19 cases continue to spike

·3 min read

EDMONTON — Alberta’s chief medical officer of health says new public-health restrictions might be needed if high daily COVID-19 case counts continue.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw says high numbers of infections usually start affecting hospitals three to four weeks afterward.

She said it’s imperative not to overwhelm hospitals so that they can still handle other emergencies and surgeries during the pandemic.

“We don’t have, right now, the level of vaccine protection to prevent people who get sick from needing to go to hospital,” Hinshaw said Tuesday.

“We have to make sure that we’re watching within the coming week to 10 days about what those cases look like and consider -- if our trajectory continues on a steep upward climb -- whether those additional measures will be needed.”

Hinshaw declined to speculate on what the restrictions could be. She said that would depend on data and other factors.

Hinshaw reported 1,081 new cases on Tuesday, the seventh consecutive day of counts above 1,000.

The rise is being driven by more contagious variants, which now make up 52 per cent of the province's 15,087 active cases. There were 402 people in hospital, 88 of them in intensive care.

The numbers are inching into the red-line territory reached before Christmas when total active cases soared past 21,000 and there were close to 900 people in hospital. That forced health officials to cancel surgeries, move patients, double-bunk critical care cases, and prep a field hospital at the University of Alberta.

Currently, Alberta does not allow indoor social gatherings and outdoor get-togethers are capped at 10 people.

Retail store customer capacity is at 15 per cent and restaurants are closed to dine-in service, although patios remain open.

Entertainment venues, including casinos, museums, movie theatres and libraries, remain closed. Gyms cannot hold group fitness activities.

Premier Jason Kenney faces opposition from some quarters — even within his own caucus — and is being pressed to ease up on public-health measures on the grounds they are onerous and unnecessary.

Kenney said restrictions need to be in place a bit longer until vaccination rates reach critical mass.

Alberta has delivered 970,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses.

“We’ve ramped up our vaccination campaign to deliver up to 40,000 doses a day and we’ll soon be able to deliver as many as 70,000 a day,” Kenney said earlier Tuesday.

“With natural immunity from those who have already been infected and the protective shield of vaccines, we will hopefully be able to see a return to normal by summer.”

Kenney, answering questions from the Opposition NDP in the house, also announced that COVID-19 had reached into his office.

“I’m aware of two members of my staff who have tested positive and are in self-isolation, as are their close contacts,” said Kenney. “They’re rigorously following all of the appropriate protocols.”

Kenney also announced businesses affected by COVID-19 shutdowns will soon be able to apply for more aid -- another payment of up to $10,000 from the Small and Medium Enterprise Relaunch Grant program.

That is on top of the maximum $20,000 made available under previous phases of the program.

The money will also be available to businesses that began operating since March 2020, as well as to hotels, taxis, and ride-hailing services.

NDP Leader Rachel Notley said the money is not enough, pointing out that Ontario offers up to $40,000 per business.

“(Alberta’s program) is a mile wide and an inch deep,” Notley told the house.

Kenney countered by saying his government has provided other supports, such as deferring and freezing property taxes, and deferrals for utility payments and workers' compensation premiums.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 13, 2021

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press