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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney emphasizes 'personal responsibility' as COVID second wave hits province

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Alberta Premier Jason Kenney at a press conference on October 16, 2020. Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

Alberta has now passed a significant milestone -- more COVID-19 cases than at the peak of the first wave of the pandemic in the spring, 3,138 compared to 3,022 on April 30.

There were 898 new cases over the weekend if you count Friday, as Alberta Health Services does, and four more people have died, including one who was only 20.

There are outbreaks at 97 schools, including 26 with five or more cases, and it's pretty hard to believe that the Alberta government's determination to have a "near-normal" school reopening last month despite forecasts a second pandemic wave was on its way isn't having an impact on these troubling numbers now.

AHS's Edmonton zone -- presumably the equivalent to a blue state from the UCP's U.S. Republicanized perspective -- is hardest hit.

In other words, the second wave is clearly with us now, but don't look for a vigorously mandated or enforced response from Premier Jason Kenney's United Conservative Party government.

Indeed, it's very hard to believe the UCP will do much about this no matter how bad things get. The premier appears to be as determined as any Republican state governor south of the Medicine Line to keep all businesses running regardless of how many Albertans get sick.

Appearing on right-wing broadcaster Danielle Smith's radio program yesterday morning, Kenney repeated his mantra about how it’s all up to us Albertans to exercise "personal responsibility."

That's a heavy responsibility for a population to which anti-mask and anti-vaccine sentiment, not to mention COVID-19 quackery, is disseminated widely and effectively, even by some mainstream media.

Smith, a former leader of the Wildrose party, has happily peddled the Trumpian claim that hydroxychloroquine was a sure-fire cure for COVID-19 on her Corus Radio show, although in fairness she normally sticks to market fundamentalist economic quackery while on the air. Either way, though, she offered a congenial platform for a premier who avoids interviewers who might ask tough questions.

"We have to learn to live with COVID-19, it is going to continue to spread through our population, unless and until there's a widespread use of an effective and safe vaccine," Kenney told a sympathetic Smith during yesterday's broadcast.

The spread of COVID-19 could doubtless be reduced by taking measures to require mask use in public spaces and businesses, which the UCP is only willing to let Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw recommend.

However, Kenney told Smith, "our strong preference is to trust people to exercise personal responsibility."

The premier also said that "Alberta's belief is we're not going to micromanage our way out of this" -- by which he presumably meant the UCP isn't going to try to manage the problem at all. "We're only going to get through this if people exercise personal responsibility, and that’s what we call on Albertans to do," Kenney added.

The government will by the sound of it, however, be continuing to micromanage Alberta Health Services' collective agreement negotiations with its health-care unions as it has the fraught contractual relationship with the province's physicians. This does say something about the UCP's practical and policy priorities.

There have been 22,673 COVID-19 cases in Alberta, population 4.4 million, since the start of the pandemic. By contrast, there have been 11,687 in British Columbia, population 5.1 million, next door. Such data, naturally, are subject to rapid change.

British Columbians go to the polls Saturday in an election in which NDP Premier John Horgan's handling of the COVID-19 crisis is widely seen as a pivotal issue.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.

Image: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr

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