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More than 1,000 Albertans have died from COVID-19, half of them in December

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Albertans learned last week the grim toll from COVID-19 in the province has now passed 1,000 deaths. 

This is a terrible tragedy but it need surprise no one, given humanity’s extensive knowledge of the science of infectious disease and the way the Kenney Government nevertheless dragged its feet each step of the way to avoid taking the sharp measures needed to control this pandemic.

With our government always in a hurry to get back to business, it took 261 days from the arrival of the pandemic in Alberta, almost nine months, for the first 500 people to die, the CBC’s Robson Fletcher pointed out last week in a tweet. It took only 34 days for the next 500 to succumb to the coronavirus, he noted. 

Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw also emphasized that the number of new cases declined over the holiday season during her December 28 COVID-19 briefing – at which there was no sign of Premier Jason Kenney. 

There may be cause for optimism in this decline, or not. But as Dr. Hinshaw conceded, the declining numbers are at least partly the result of fewer lab tests being performed over the holiday. Some people have chosen to put celebration first and worry about illness later. 

Significantly, the number of people being treated in hospital for COVID-19 has not declined. So while one certainly hopes that the lower number of reported cases means the trend has turned downward, don’t bet the farm just yet that the decline augers a parallel drop in the actual number of new infections. 

The government should hold off on patting itself on the back about the effectiveness of its recent restrictions, which while tougher than the previous rules are inconsistent and being only reluctantly enforced. Shopping malls remain open. 

After Dr. Hinshaw’s grim news conference. Mr. Kenney issued a short statement on the fatalities

“Each one means that there is a family that is grieving, a friend who has lost someone they loved, a child who lost their parent, a partner who lost their true love,” he said in part. “To all those who are grieving, Alberta grieves with you. …”

The instant public reaction on social media was harsh, from all sides of the political spectrum. There seems to be a fury in the land, to borrow a line from an earlier moment in Canadian history. Many reminders of the premier’s “an influenza” remark about COVID-19 appeared on Twitter. Readers can read the ratio that followed Mr. Kenney’s first tweet about his messagethemselves. 

“Even as we reach this painful milestone, there is reason for hope,” Mr. Kenney’s statement continued, in what is sure to be a key United Conservative Party talking point in the grim days ahead. “The first Albertans have already received the COVID-19 vaccine, and more are getting vaccinated every day. As of today, more than 6,000 Albertans have received their first vaccine doses.”

Dr. Hinshaw noted that Alberta has received 25,350 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine but has only administered the 6,015 doses referenced by Mr. Kenney. A first shipment of 3,900 doses arrived two weeks ago. 

Remember that Health Minister Tyler Shandro predicted over two weeks ago that Alberta would immunize 29,000 health care workers by the end of December. Clinic staff must have had to work quickly if Alberta expected to administer another 22,985 before year end!

We might want to start keeping clinics open on holidays, as well. Because it’s not very reassuring that the Alberta and Ontario governments – led by men who used to brag they finished each other’s sentences – shut down vaccination programs on recent statutory holidays, almost as if they thought the virus would take the day off too.

As befits the attitude illustrated by the holiday shutdowns, both provinces are at the bottom of the list of Canadian jurisdictions for the per capita number of residents who have been vaccinated. Ontario is last, at least. 

We can be confident that Conservative provincial governments will do their best to blame the Liberal Government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for any delays in the roll-out of vaccines, ably assisted, no doubt, by such major Conservative media as the Globe and Mail and Postmedia.

We can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Mr. Kenney promised in his statement on the COVID-19 deaths. 

No one who lived through years of the Vietnam War can hear that phrase without experiencing a chill. 

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