'Whatever measures are necessary': More restrictions coming in Alta. after day of 2,012 cases

Premier Jason Kenney pleaded for Albertans to follow the COVID-19 public health restrictions in place as the province reported 2,012 new cases on Monday, including 1,900 variant infections.

There are now 23,608 active cases of COVID-19 in Alberta – the highest amount of total infections in the province throughout the pandemic.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said the province completed about 15,000 tests Monday, bringing the positivity rate to 13.2 per cent – another pandemic high.

There are 658 Albertans in hospital, an increase from 648 on Sunday. ICU admissions number 154 across the province.

Alberta's seven-day average of new cases is 1,969. 

Four new deaths were reported Monday.

Of the 1,900 cases of variants of concern reported, 1,558 were the B.1.1.7 variant first identified in the United Kingdom.

P.1 variant cases in Alberta have been significantly increasing in the past few weeks, with 342 new infections of the variant first identified in Brazil reported Monday.

As of Sunday, more than 1.64 million vaccine doses have been administered in Alberta with 29.6 per cent of those eligible receiving at least one dose. Only 6.6 per cent of the population has been fully immunized from COVID-19.

Nearly 60 per cent of Albertans aged 60 to 64 have received their first dose and 77 per cent of those between the ages of 65 and 74 have gotten their first immunization.

Kenney encouraged all Albertans to take COVID-19 “seriously.” He added that a new set of restrictions are being developed by the province and that more details will be announced Tuesday.

“Put our health-care system first,” Kenney said. “We all want to see this pandemic over.”

The premier called it astonishing that after 14 months and more than 2,000 deaths in Alberta people are still treating COVID-19 as a hoax.

“It’s up to each of us, our actions will determine whether we get a summer where we can enjoy lighter restrictions and low spread because of vaccines or whether we’re still stuck battling the spread of this virus,” he said.

During the COVID-19 update, Kenney announced Alberta teachers and support staff at schools like custodians will be eligible for vaccination starting Tuesday.

MORE RESTRICTIONS COMING FOR ALBERTA

Kenney said Albertans can expect “stronger” public health measures for the province on Tuesday.

The cabinet committee in charge of restrictions will be meeting, although Kenney said there have been no decisions made yet as to the nature of the stricter rules.

Asked why restrictions in the province have been applied in a piecemeal, step-by-step fashion, as opposed to larger packages, he said: “We have consistently stuck to the same goals, which have been to protect lives, to protect the healthcare system, but also to minimize the negative impact of restrictions on our broader social health."

“I think generally we have done quite well with that.”

He justified the success of Alberta’s restrictions to date by citing the per capita death rate in the province as compared to the national rate and rates in other jurisdictions in North America and Europe.

ALBERTA HAS A ‘BEHAVIOURAL DIFFERENCE’ TOWARD FOLLOWING COVID-19 RESTRICTIONS

Kenney said Alberta has operated on a similar policy direction as British Columbia and Saskatchewan. Case counts are dropping in those provinces while they continue to reach new pandemic highs in Alberta.

To Kenney, the difference lies in adherence to regulations.

“There is a behavioral difference here,” he said. “What we want is for folks to follow the rules, not rules for the sake of rules.

“That's why we've always taken the approach that restrictions, should be a last and limited resort to maximize compliance and public buy in.”

He said problems with non-compliance could be the result of Alberta having the youngest population in Canada and younger cohorts have seen more infections, increased outdoor activity with warmer weather, and the province's larger labour force participation translating to more public-facing jobs.

Now, he says there may be nothing left in the toolbox except broader tougher restrictions.

Many questions leveled at Kenney probed his response to the pandemic and why Albertans should continue to trust his leadership as pandemic records continue to be shattered.

“The virus got us to this point right now,” Kenney said in response to a question asking about his leadership getting the province to this third wave increase.

“We continue to layer stronger measures on top of stronger measures,” he said. “We saw that was effective in November and December.

“But right now, we are facing a very serious wave and we will take whatever measures are necessary to address it.”