Alberta Premier Jason Kenney listens as the 2021 budget is delivered in Edmonton Alta, on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney listens as the 2021 budget is delivered in Edmonton Alta, on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson

Kenney faces criticism from doctors, his own caucus, over new COVID-19 health rules

Alberta now has more than 10,000 active cases, about 43 per cent are variants

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is getting an earful from health experts and from backbench members of his own United Conservative caucus over his new COVID-19 health restrictions.

Several doctors from Calgary and Edmonton say the new rules will not be enough to reduce the spread of the virus during the province’s third wave.

At the same time, 15 United Conservative members of the legislature issued a public statement Wednesday condemning the new rules as a step backwards.

Kenney reintroduced the measures a day earlier. He said the move was regrettable but necessary because the rise in the more contagious variant cases, if left unchecked, will overwhelm the health system by the middle of May.

The new measures include closing restaurants to in-person dining and reduced retail customer capacity to 15 per cent. Patio dining is still allowed.

Gyms can no longer host low-intensity group fitness such as yoga or tai chi.

Worship services remain at 15 per cent capacity. Indoor social gatherings remain banned and outdoor get-togethers can have no more than 10 people.

Dr. James Talbot, co-chair of the COVID-19 committee with the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association and a professor at the University of Alberta, said those measures won’t get the job done.

“It’s not enough to bring the numbers down,” Talbot said during a Zoom press conference with several other doctors. “They’ll rise more slowly, but they are not going to come down.”

Dr. Gosia Gasperowicz, a developmental biologist with the faculty of nursing at the University of Calgary, said cases related to the more contagious B.1.1.7 variant are doubling in Calgary every week.

Gasperowicz said it would take a sweeping shutdown similar to one last spring to even start bending the curve downward.

“We would need restrictions the strength of New Zealand, Australia — basically full financially supported lockdown,” said Gasperowicz.

Alberta now has more than 10,000 active cases, about 43 per cent are variants.

Kenney has faced mounting pressure from members of his caucus to reduce the restrictions or at least vary the approach given that some areas have many cases while others do not.

On Wednesday, 15 of them signed an open letter condemning the latest changes.

“We have heard from our constituents, and they want us to defend their livelihoods and freedoms as Albertans,” wrote the 15.

“We do not support the additional restrictions placed on Albertans yesterday and we will continue advocating for a transparent path forward that provides certainty to Alberta families, communities and businesses.”

Among the letter co-signers were Nathan Cooper, Speaker of the legislature, and Angela Pitt, deputy Speaker.

During question period, the Opposition NDP hammered away at Kenney for not disciplining the 15, accusing him of condoning those who reject public health advice and thereby put Albertans’ health at risk.

“Albertans deserve a government that respects science, that respects the law, that supports public health,” NDP Leader Rachel Notley told Kenney.

Kenney said none of his caucus members are urging people to break the law, adding: “If elected representatives cannot speak their minds about matters of policy, then what are they elected to do?”

Kenney’s government has laboured to keep the economy and public gatherings open as much as possible for the past year, characterizing their mission as protecting both “lives and livelihoods.”

The result has been an accordion-style opening, closing, restriction and relaxing of public-health rules, particularly on restaurants.

Restaurants Canada, speaking for the industry, said in a statement: “We appreciate the decision of the Alberta government to keep patio dining available, as safe options for enjoying outdoor activities are important for people’s mental health.”

But at the Unicorn, a three-floor pub on Calgary’s Stephen Avenue pedestrian mall, general manager Paul Worby said they will go from 600 to 30 seats because of the restrictions.

”It’s a staggering drop in revenue,” said Worby. “It’s not going to be a lot of shifts for anybody.”

Also Wednesday, the government shut down GraceLife church near Edmonton, which had been holding large gatherings for months in defiance of public-health orders.

— With files from Lauren Krugel in Calgary

Colette Derworiz and Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

CoronavirusJason Kenney

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

(File photo)
Town of Ponoka makes changes to monthly tax payment plan

Ponoka town council has approved changes to the town’s monthly tax payment… Continue reading

Katherine Swampy
Maskwacis chiefs are opposed to RAPID Response

Alberta Treaty 6 First Nations say they were not properly consulted

A empty classroom is pictured at Eric Hamber Secondary school in Vancouver, B.C. Monday, March 23, 2020. The Alberta government says schools in Calgary will move to at-home learning starting Monday for students in grades 7 to 12.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Calgary schools to shift to at-home learning for grades 7 to 12 due to COVID-19

The change, due to COVID-19, is to last for two weeks

A man wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as he walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
COVID-19 spike in B.C. could overwhelm B.C. hospitals: modelling group

There are 397 people are in hospital due to the virus, surpassing a previous high of 374 seen in December

Ron Rauch and his wife Audrey are photographed at their home in Victoria, Friday, March 5, 2021. Their daughter Lisa Rauch died on Christmas Day 2019 when a tactical officer with the Victoria Police Department shot her in the back of the head with plastic bullets after barricading herself in a room that was on fire. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. families push for changes as special committee examines provincial Police Act

Solicitor General Mike Farnworth acknowledged the need to update the legislation last year

Major-General Dany Fortin, left, looks on as Minister of Public Services and Procurement Anita Anand provides an update on the COVID-19 pandemic, in Ottawa, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020. The Public Health Agency of Canada has set aside up to $5 billion to pay for COVID-19 vaccines. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada negotiating contracts to secure COVID-19 booster shots for next year: Anand

Most of Canada’s current vaccine suppliers are already testing new versions against variants

(Government of Canada)
Liberal MP caught stark naked during House of Commons video conference

William Amos, in Quebec, appeared on the screens of his fellow members of Parliament completely naked

Health Canada headquarters in Ottawa. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)
Health Canada releases guidelines for reducing COVID-19 transmission at home

Improve indoor air quality by opening up your windows and doors, among other encouraged ventilation measures

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney updates media on measures taken to help with COVID-19, in Edmonton on Friday, March 20, 2020. Alberta is set to join three other provinces in exploring the feasibility of small modular reactors as a clean energy option. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Four provinces to sign memorandum of understanding to explore small nuclear reactors

Alberta government said in August that it would enter into the agreement to help diversify its energy sector

Sharis Carr, a nurse at the Aaron E. Henry Community Health Service Center in Clarksdale, Miss., holds a box containing doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday, April 7, 2021. The U.S. is recommending a “pause” in using the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to investigate reports of potentially dangerous blood clots. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
EXPLAINER: What’s known about COVID vaccines and rare clots

These are not typical blood clots – they’re weird in two ways

Most Read