Proof of vaccination program announced in Alberta as state of public health emergency declared

Premier Jason Kenney announced new COVID-19 measures for Alberta in Calgary on Sept. 15, 2021. (Jeff McIntosh / The Canadian Press)

The government of Alberta has joined other provinces across Canada in announcing a proof of vaccination program as COVID-19 cases continue to soar to well over a thousand per day.

Speaking to the media on Wednesday, Alta. Premier Jason Kenney said due to the escalating COVID-19 situation, which he described as a “crisis of the unvaccinated,” the province would enter into a proof of vaccination program.

“It has now become clear that we need to go further,” he said.

In addition to the vaccine passport, Kenney declared a state of public health emergency for the province.

“Unless we slow transmission, particularly among unvaccinated Albertans, we simply will not be able to provide adequate care to the sick based on current trends,” he said.

Of the number of patients in Alberta’s intensive care units, Kenney said 90 per cent are unvaccinated. The province set a pandemic high for the number of ICU admissions on Tuesday with 212.

“I do not say this to stigmatize people, but we all need to understand that the decision not to get vaccinated is not just a personal choice, it has real consequences for our whole society and for our ability of our hospitals to cope.”

NEW RESTRICTIONS FOR ALBERTA

In addition to the introduction of vaccine passports, Health Minister Tyler Shandro detailed a number of health restrictions that would be coming into force this month because of the spike in cases.

Starting Sept. 16, all businesses must implement work from home measures unless it is absolutely necessary for employees to be in the workplace.

Indoor gatherings of fully vaccinated Albertans are limited to a single household, plus one other household and with a maximum of 10 people. Anyone who is unvaccinated will not be able to attend any indoor gathering.

Outdoor gatherings are limited to a maximum of 200 people and physical distancing measures must be maintained.

Limits will also be returning to places of worship, Shandro said.

“(They) will be limited to maximum of one-third of the venue’s normal in-person capacity and masking is required. As well, physical distancing between households must be maintained.”

While schools were already instructed to have all students, staff and teachers to wear masks, the government now says elementary schools will be required to be split into cohorts.

“For physical activity in schools, youth who are 18 and under will not be required to mask or maintain physical distancing of two metres when participating,” Shandro said. “Spectator attendance is limited to one-third capacity and masking and physical distancing between households is required.”

The same restrictions apply to activities that occur outside of school.

BUSINESS RESTRICTIONS COMING SEPT. 20

Additional restrictions, which target businesses and other events, are scheduled to come into force on Sept. 20, Shandro said.

Those restrictions include a limit of six people per table for outdoor dining, continued curfews on liquor sales and consumption, and limits on attendance for events such as weddings and funerals.

Physical activities involving groups of adults will not be able to occur indoors, but individual training and workouts are permitted as long as there is three metres of space between participants.

In addition, businesses such as restaurants will be allowed to implement the government’s Restrictions Exemption Program, which requires Albertans to show a proof of immunization or negative COVID-19 test result from the previous 72 hours to access events and businesses.

Indoor dining will be shut down for any restaurant that doesn’t implement the government’s Restrictions Exemption Program.

Those rules apply to all residents aged 12 and older.

“If a business chooses not to implement a restrictions exemption program, they are then required to adhere to all the public health measures. Grocery stores and retail establishments are not eligible to implement a restriction exemptions program and will need to follow all of the new health measures,” he said.

Shandro says the new program is aimed at increasing vaccination rates across the province.

‘REGRET THAT WE BEGAN AN ENDEMIC MOVE’

Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw reiterated her apology to Albertans, which was made last week.

During Wednesday’s media availability, she said the decision to loosen restrictions was made based on the “best information (she) had.”

“I regret that we made an endemic move to transition too soon,” she said. “We shifted our approach as soon as evidence showed hospitalizations were not decoupling from cases as we had expected and I have continued to update my recommendations as our situation has changed.”

Hinshaw says all the new restrictions are province-wide because the threat posed by the fourth wave of COVID-19 affects the entire region, not just Calgary and Edmonton.

“It is critical that we all embrace them regardless of where we live,” she said. “No single sector or area of our society is driving this spread alone. Instead, it is the result of close contact, whenever people gather together, especially indoors.”

When asked if she would resign from her post as Alberta’s top doctor, Hinshaw said she is devoted to offering her services to Albertans.

“I am deeply, deeply committed to the overall health of the province and, as I said in a media avaiability last week, it is Albertans’ choice of who they place their trust in and all I can do is do my best to serve and I do, every single day.”

‘APPALLED AND ANGRY’: NOTLEY

NDP leader Rachel Notley said she was “appalled and angry” that the COVID-19 situation in Alberta has been allowed to reach a crisis level.

She said the premier was blaming Albertans for the state of the province by focusing on the vaccination rate rather than taking responsibility for late and insufficient government response.

“It should never have come to this,” she said. “The severity of this fourth wave and the consequences we see today are the direct result of this UCP government’s paralysis. But none the less, the actions announced are things that we need to take seriously and follow.”

Notley also expressed concerned about new plans for schools, which are trying to comply with no notice or supports and for Alberta businesses, which she said will need a lot of help from health officers to enforce new regulations.

Further details about the government of Alberta’s new COVID-19 health restrictions are available online.

Source: CTV, September 14, 2021.

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