Findings of a third-party review into Alberta’s handling of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic won’t be released until sometime in the new year.
The review was meant to help inform the province’s response to the second wave of the pandemic.
In a July announcement, the provincial government said it would choose a consultant to undertake the review by Aug. 19, so the work could begin “immediately and be completed this fall.”
According to the province, KPMG was awarded a $475,000 contract and work began on the probe in September.
That work on the pandemic review is still ongoing, and the findings are expected to be shared with the government in early 2021, according to a spokesperson for the Ministry of Health.
“Schools closed in March, we had the first lockdown in March, I think students, staff and parents deserved a government that was going to make decisions of how to re-open safely, reflecting on the decisions they made in the spring,” NDP deputy leader and education critic Sarah Hoffman said.
“Now we’re getting ready to send kids back again in the next week and a half, and the government is still stalling and delaying sharing these findings.”
However, the province said the review isn’t delayed and the scope of the review hasn’t changed.
“The review was always expected to be completed in the late fall or early 2021,” health ministry press secretary Steve Buick said in a statement.
“The report is on track to be shared with the government as planned, early in 2021. An exact timeline has not been determined.”
According to a news release when the review was announced, the province said it would “enhance Alberta’s capacity to respond to a potential second wave of COVID-19 and any future pandemics,” and added that a “strong, coordinated response can help save lives, prevent wide-scale spread of disease and help jobs and the economy bounce back more quickly.”
The review was supposed to look into several areas of the province’s COVID-19 response in the first wave including health system response, economic response, governance and decision-making, procurement, engagement with other governments and stakeholders and communications.
According to Buick, the review was set to cover the period up until October 2020. Similar reviews were undertaken following large incidents in provincial history including the 2016 wildfires that swept through Fort McMurray, the 2013 floods in southern Alberta and the 2011 Slave Lake fire.
Between Oct. 1 and Dec. 22, when detailed COVID-19 statistics were last released to the public, 75,368 Albertans were diagnosed with the disease.
Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced on Twitter that there were 1,200 new cases of COVID-19 reported on Dec. 24, and an additional 900 reported on Christmas Day.
The brief statistics, which didn’t include reported mortalities due to the virus, showed a positivity rate between six and seven per cent and “small” increases to ICU and hospitalization rates.
“Nobody thinks were not in a second wave yet, I think everyone’s aware the second wave is even more severe than the first,” Hoffman said.
“For the government to say that this isn’t a delay when people are dying, when people are losing their jobs, people are facing significant health impacts, the least we deserve is full transparent information.”
Meanwhile, Lorian Hardcastle, an associate professor with the faculty of law and Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary, said the province should be shifting the focus of the review, now that stricter health measures have been in place since November to combat the spread of the virus.
“Those ships have sailed,” Hardcastle said. “I think the government needs to focus in more on the vaccine issue, and how to ensure people are receiving that and how to deal with people who have vaccine hesitancy.”
In the long term, Hardcastle said the hope would be that a larger inquiry would be called to examine how the federal government and the province responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The information that will be beneficial will be how do we improve the public health system overall to better manage a public health emergency,” Hardcastle said.
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