The second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic is here — and it’s hitting some parts of Canada harder than others, according to new modelling released by Canada’s top doctor Dr. Theresa Tam.
But as Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced new crackdowns to combat rising case numbers there, including closing indoor dining and gyms in the hardest hit areas, Ford’s conservative comrade, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, is taking a different approach.
“We’re not gonna enforce our way out of this,” Kenney told reporters Friday. “Alberta has done extremely well on a global scale by taking a lighter approach to restrictions than many other jurisdictions that had vast lockdowns and aggressive enforcement and micromanaging peoples’ lives.”
WATCH: Alberta premier not planning on imposing restrictions. Story continues below.
While the “Atlantic bubble” and northern territories have remained largely COVID-free in the past month, and new cases in British Columbia have seemingly plateaued, Alberta, Quebec and Ontario have seen marked surges in new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.
Alberta reported 364 new cases Thursday, a new daily record. The province currently has nearly 47.4 active cases per 100,000 people, second only to Quebec, which has the highest per capita rate in Canada. As of Thursday, there are 2,097 active cases across Alberta.
The most alarming surge has come in Edmonton, which accounted for more than three quarters of new cases Thursday, recording 266 new test-positives for a total of 1,251 active cases.
In response, Alberta chief medical officer Dr. Deena Hinshaw introduced new voluntary restrictions in the city, including limiting indoor gatherings to 15 people and encouraging people to maintain only three “cohorts” of close contacts such as school, work or family “cohorts”.
“These measures are voluntary because we still have sufficient hospital beds and capacity to meet the current needs in Edmonton, but we are moving forward with them because it is important to use our current data as a call to action,” Hinshaw said.
But while the new restrictions are targeted to the province’s hotspot like Ontario’s new rules, unlike Ontario they are not mandatory and will not be enforced. Activities like indoor dining, gyms and casinos remain open across Alberta.
On Friday, Kenney said there are no plans to make those voluntary restrictions mandatory.
“I want, as much as humanly possible, us to maintain our approach which is focused on people exercising personal responsibility,” Kenney said.
Kenney stressed encouraging Albertans to follow health guidance rather than imposing restrictions or enforced measures to prevent the spread of the virus. He pointed to other impacts of the pandemic as reason not to impose new lockdowns, accusing some people of “myopically” focusing only on limiting the spread.
We’re not gonna enforce our way out of this.Alberta Premier Jason Kenney
“We have to look at all of the other considerations,” Kenney said. “So we are focused on the broader health — physical, mental, social and economic — and that’s why our focus as much as possible continues to be on encouraging people to exercise responsibility, rather than micromanaging their lives.”
Hinshaw has said that a surge in hospitalizations will be the benchmark for any new restrictions in the province. Mandatory restrictions will be introduced if there is a rise in hospitalizations of greater than five per cent per day for more than two weeks, or if more than half of the province’s ICU beds become occupied.
As of Thursday, there are 77 people hospitalized in the province with COVID-19, with 13 of those in ICU. But those numbers are an increase from three weeks ago, when 45 people were in hospital, with seven in ICU.
Hospitalizations, and particularly, ICU admissions are a “lagging” indicator, meaning they tend to surge a week or two after confirmed cases surge.
Because of this, Hinshaw says she is “very concerned about the sharp rise in cases.”
Still, Kenney is calling on “Albertans to be Albertans” in fighting the second wave and use their personal freedoms rather than government restrictions.
“We’ve got a spike in cases right now. And I’m just calling on Albertans to be Albertans, to do what they do best, which is the responsible use of freedom rather than expecting the government to come in and tell everybody how to live their lives,” he said.