Alberta tallies record 325 COVID-19 variants, 700-plus new infections

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Alberta has found another 325 cases of more-contagious variants of COVID-19 as the strains begin to make up more of the province’s active infections.

All 325 of the newly detected variant cases are the B.1.1.7 strain, which originated in the United Kingdom.

In total, the province has found 2,626 variant cases, the vast majority of which are B.1.1.7. Among those cases, 1,654 remain active, representing 23.4 per cent of Alberta’s total active infections.

Friday continued a recent increase in COVID-19 case rates in Alberta, with the province reporting another 717 cases of the novel coronavirus. It’s the second-highest total since Jan. 15, topped only by the previous day’s 764 cases.

The new infections came from 13,308 tests, representing a 5.4 per cent test positivity rate. It’s an increased positivity rate from the previous months, but falls in line with the seven-day average.

The new cases brought the number of active cases in Alberta above 7,000 for the first time since Jan. 28.

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Despite the rising numbers elsewhere, total hospitalizations saw a three per cent decrease. There are now 284 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19, including 59 patients in intensive-care units.

Three more deaths from the virus were also reported, including a man in his 70s from the Alberta Health Services Calgary zone. The pandemic’s toll in Alberta is 1,979.

Speaking at an unrelated news conference Friday, Premier Jason Kenney said Alberta would be willing to impose further targeted public-health measures, “if we saw a dangerous spike that in our view threatened the capacity of our health-care system.”

He defended the province’s resistance to releasing modelling or projections of COVID-19 spread while criticizing those released by the Public Health Agency of Canada, saying inaccurate models can undermine public confidence in government response to the pandemic.

“We are concerned. We are concerned about the increase in active cases, new cases, the rate of transmission and hospitalizations, all of those metrics,” said Kenney.

“We need to bring the public along with us, and constantly publishing models which time after time prove to be spectacularly inaccurate is not a great way to instil public confidence.”

In Public Health Agency of Canada modelling released Friday, the organization projected a rapid rise to one million cases next month as variants take hold across the country.

In a statement, NDP health critic David Shepherd called the jump in variant cases “very concerning to all Albertans” and called again for provincial modelling.

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“Doctors and front-line health-care providers are preparing for a third wave and yet Jason Kenney still refuses to release modelling,” he said.

Canada closed out the week with more vaccine distribution hiccups.

The federal government announced Thursday that 590,400 doses of Moderna originally slated to arrive in Canada this weekend would be delayed a few days due to quality assurance requirements.

The shipment is expected no later than this upcoming Thursday, and Moderna has said the issue is not expected to impact future deliveries.

The country will, however, receive a boost next week, when 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine on loan from the United States will arrive in Canada Tuesday.

In total, Canada is slated to receive 3.2 million doses of vaccine next week. For Alberta, that will mean an influx of 140,400 Pfizer doses and 67,400 Moderna doses. The province can also expect around 175,500 doses of AstraZeneca based on previous shipments, though the federal government has not posted provincial allocations for the latest delivery.

Kenney again singled out the federal government for insufficient vaccine supply in Alberta, arguing immunizations present an opportunity to escape the pandemic without once again imposing more restrictions on businesses and public life.

“We need more vaccines yesterday. As we’ve always said in the last couple months, we’re in a race between the vaccines and variants,” Kenney said.

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“I don’t want the variants to win, nor do we want to inflict massive damage on people through widespread restrictions. That’s why the solution here is vaccines. The federal government has got to do its job and get us those doses.”

Immunizations continue in Alberta, where 463,816 people have now received at least one of the two necessary doses of vaccine.

The province’s pace of immunization is increasing, with 26,592 jabs administered Thursday, the second-highest total through the province’s campaign. Overall, 10.5 per cent of Albertans and 13.5 per cent of Alberta adults have received at least one shot.

In total, six million more doses of COVID-19 vaccines are scheduled to flow into Canada over the next three weeks, the same number as have arrived in the country to date since vaccines were first approved in December 2020, according to federal Procurement Minister Anita Anand.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, did not hold a news conference on Friday. She will return on Tuesday.

—With files from The Canadian Press

jherring@postmedia.com

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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