Alberta’s latest COVID-19 measures cause frustration for doctors, restaurant owners

A Calgary emergency room doctor says today’s announcement by the provincial government concerning COVID-19 is “grossly inadequate”.

And Dr. Joe Vipond says a lot of unnecessary suffering and death is coming our way.

“Our public health officials and our political leaders have learned nothing through four waves of COVID,” Vipond said, “and they continue to react inadequately.”

Read more: Alberta introduces new COVID-19 measures, offers $100 incentive to increase vaccine numbers

On Friday, the provincial government reinstated a province-wide mask mandate in all indoor public spaces and workplaces, except in classrooms, where decisions are being left to local school boards.

All licensed bars, restaurants and pubs must stop alcohol sales by 10 p.m. and all businesses are being asked to re-think having staff return to work.

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But Vipond says that’s simply not enough. He wants to see mandatory masking in schools, the resumption of notification of positive cases to schools, resumption of contact tracing and the closure of indoor dining and drinking, and limits to indoor and outdoor gatherings. These were all measures implemented in earlier waves of the pandemic.

He also wants to see some new measures put in place.

“An introduction of the national COVID contact-tracing app, which seems to have been forgotten by all of Alberta. And vaccine passports. We’re the only province without a vaccine passport process.”

Vipond even goes as far as to say schools should be closed immediately.

“They have a huge role in COVID transmission,” he said. “They’re gonna close at some point. Why not do it early so we get the benefit of that…early closure?”

READ MORE: Alberta COVID-19 modelling projects province could see up to 300 ICU admissions this month 

Vipond says he can’t understand the government’s move to lift restrictions so early in the first place, adding it’s what has led to today’s exponential growth wave.

“I hate to say this, but we were like two weeks away from COVID zero in July. If we had just held off on relaxing things for two more weeks, we could have gotten to zero. We could have put in some good border restrictions so that we kept it out. And instead, we had the Stampede and relaxation of all restrictions.”

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As for the $100 incentive the province is offering to those getting their first and second vaccines, Vipond says aside from being “horribly inequitable” to those who already got their shots, it won’t make much of a difference.

“They think the risk of vaccine is too high. That’s through misinformation of course,” Vipond said. “And also misinformation that COVID’s not a big deal, you know, a hoax. And I don’t see $100 is going to change their minds to get vaccinated.”

Read more: Alberta postpones even more surgeries due to overwhelming increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations

Vipond predicts the worst is yet to come, saying if trends continue there will be over 400 patients in Alberta’s intensive care units within the next three weeks. The ICUs are currently full with 107.

“There’s gonna be impacts on every single one of us. This is the refrigerator-trucks-full-of-dead-bodies moment in Alberta’s history.”

Ernie Tsu, president of the Alberta Hospitality Association, called Friday’s announcement disappointing and frustrating.

Tsu says turning off the taps at 10 p.m. isn’t going to make a difference. He says people leave the bars and restaurants and gather elsewhere.

He says his industry is being unfairly targeted.

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“We’re the only industry targeted in this recent announcement. It’s one thing to keep being resilient and trying to pivot, but now it’s the mental health of every restaurant owner that has to cut back hours again and look and see how we try to make sure that we keep our staff employed,” Tsu said.

Tsu says he has never seen data to support showing closing restaurants early would have any impact on driving down cases or getting more people vaccinated.

“I know that a number of restaurant owners that are extremely frustrated and angered after this recent press conference are calling for everything from legal action to class action lawsuit to try to get to see where the data is coming from. Public health and safety is number one, and that is from every restaurant owner. But when it is surely targeted at one industry we have to ask why.”

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Read more: ‘Stress and anxiety’: Enforcing COVID-19 vaccine passport a concern for some restaurants

Tsu says he’ll be looking for feedback from the group’s membership, including about the potential for a vaccine passport.

“We haven’t had time to see how our whole association feels about a possible vaccine passport. That’s up to the government,” Tsu said.

“Our job is to make sure that we’re open…so in terms of vaccinations vs. non vaccinations we need some time to talk to our whole association.”

Calgary pollster and political commentator Janet Brown says the Kenney government has backed itself into a corner when it removed nearly all COVID-19 restrictions.

“This government really pushed back hard on people who doubted that the pandemic was over,” she said. “So because it was so entrenched in this position that the pandemic was over, it took them a very, very long time to show some concern about this latest wave.”

Kenney was questioned about being on vacation as COVID-19 cases surged. He defended his position, saying he hadn’t taken a two-week break since 2015.

Brown said she found his defence problematic.

“When I take a vacation, I usually delegate some my responsibilities to somebody else,” she said.

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“It’s one thing for the premier to be off, but to not have heard from any other senior ministers or the chief medical officer of health on this issue during a health crisis, I mean, that’s pretty perplexing, and pretty unprecedented.”

Brown said the $100 incentive to get vaccinated is not sitting well with Albertans who already have both shots.

“They’re now wondering why they’re facing greater restrictions this weekend, and people who haven’t been vaccinated are now facing the prospect of getting $100.”

She added that the province’s latest move may have just united Albertans by dissatisfying everyone.

“The anti-vax, anti-mask protests, they’ve been by people who are skeptical of vaccinations,” Brown said.

“But I think you’re going to see a new trend now where people who have been vaccinated are going to lose their patience and say, ‘Look, I’ve been vaccinated. I don’t see why I have to continue to wear a mask. I don’t see why I have to continue to restrict my movements.’”

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