EDMONTON — Premier Jason Kenney rejected calls for a "hard lockdown" during an appearance on a radio program Sunday, the same day that his province's former top doctor signed a letter calling for immediate "fire break" measures to deal with surging cases of COVID-19.
Kenney told radio host Roy Green that a lockdown would make "no sense for the 80 per cent of the population that is vaccinated," and who he said are much less likely to transmit the disease and are far less likely to be hospitalized.
Further, he said the roughly 20 per cent who aren't vaccinated and are behind the surge in cases are less likely to follow public health measures.
Alberta's former chief medical officer of health, Dr. James Talbot, and critical care specialist Dr. Noel Gibney, signed an open letter Sunday to the province's new health minister, Jason Copping, calling on the minister to take action to "prevent more disease, deaths, and suffering."
They called for measures that include the transfer of ICU patients to other provinces now in order to relieve pressure on hospitals and delay the need for triage protocols.
They also called for a set of “fire break” closures and restrictions for a minimum of four weeks for bars, gyms, casinos, indoor dining and sports facilities.
"We are within days of being forced to implement a triage protocol which will force health care workers to make life and death decisions on who will get scarce resources, like ventilators. Those that do not are likely to die," said the letter from the doctors, which began with congratulations for Copping on his appointment to the health portfolio last week.
"Albertan’s hospital system, especially ICUs are under more killing stress than at any time in the province's history."
Alberta has more than 20,000 active COVID-19 cases and is seeing well over 1,000 new cases each day.
On Friday, the Canadian Armed Forces prepared to bring in air transport and staff to deal with the COVID-19 crisis overwhelming Alberta's hospitals.
Kenney told Green that Ontario was in a similar predicament with COVID-19 in the spring, despite having much more intensive restrictions in place. He also noted that Alberta took in patients from Manitoba earlier this year, despite what he called a hard lockdown there.
He also continued to defend his government's elimination of restrictions on July 1, which many have blamed for the surge.
"I don't think we were wrong to drop public health restrictions in the summer, on July 1. We saw the numbers continue to go down for five to six weeks after that," Kenney told Green.
"How could I have possibly justified what the Opposition and others wanted, which was continued damaging restrictions when there was no evidence to support that?"
Talbot and Gibney also called for mandatory vaccine passports for entry to non-essential businesses, as well as mandatory vaccination of government employees and other arm's length bodies.
This month, Alberta implemented a "restrictions exemption program" which allows businesses to operate with almost no COVID-19 rules as long as they ask for proof of vaccination. Those choosing not to request immunization records must abide by stricter public health rules.
But Kenney's United Conservative government has been criticized for downloading the decision, causing confusion and forcing compliant businesses to face the wrath of anti-vaccination customers.
"Your government’s own policies are responsible for collaborating with COVID in creating this killing surge," the doctors' letter stated.
"Continued inaction is not moral or ethical."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 26, 2021.
Rob Drinkwater, The Canadian Press