Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw admitted yesterday that Alberta’s current response to soaring COVID-19 infection rates is “not likely to be sufficient to bring down our numbers.”
Fielding uncharacteristically tough and focused questioning by reporters taking part in her afternoon COVID-19 briefing and news conference, Hinshaw wouldn’t quite let herself be goaded into admitting the pandemic strategy adopted by the Kenney government is flat-out not working.
“I believe that if we had not put those restrictions in place, we would be in a worse place now than we are,” she insisted a couple of times.
But she came pretty close, conceding that “it’s currently looking like the measures that were put in place two weeks ago are unlikely to be sufficient to bend the curve downwards, which is of course what we have to do it we’re going to protect our acute care system.”
“So we will need, if the goal is to bring our numbers down, we will need additional measures to be able to do that,” she said in response to a reporter’s question.
That’s an interesting turn of phrase. What was she suggesting, one wonders, when she said “if the goal is to bring our numbers down” — emphasis added, of course. That bringing the numbers down is not the government’s goal? Or was she saying it had better be?
I guess we’ll find out — or at least get a sense — when she brings her recommendations to cabinet, possibly as soon as today.
“As you know,” Hinshaw said, “cabinet makes the ultimate decision about what restrictions will be put in place, and on what timing those are introduced.
“My team has been working hard. We are concerned by these numbers and will be bringing those recommendations forward.”
Well, good luck to ’em. It can’t be easy bringing sound public health recommendations to a cabinet for which the ineffective “mockdown” two weeks ago was too much. With situation growing much worse in spite of the half-measures cabinet reluctantly accepted two weeks ago — “putting enormous pressure on our hospitals, intensive care units, and health-care workers,” Hinshaw said — the harsher measures necessary now will be twice as hard for them to swallow.
Asked to defend the decision not to aim for crushing the virus to zero new cases, the approach successfully championed in Australia by former Alberta Heath Services CEO Stephen Duckett, Hinshaw sounded as if she were reading from Premier Kenney’s speaking notes.
“We have not been driving to zero cases, as again we need to make sure that the restrictions that are put in place are going to be enough to bend the curve, but we also don’t want to inflict any unnecessary problems with those restrictions,” she said. (Emphasis added.)
“And that’s that balance that we’ve been striving to achieve for many months now. And there are pros and cons of different approaches. I’ve often said that there’s no one single right way to move through this pandemic.”
The evidence strongly suggests, however, there is only one effective way to deal with it — the strategy proven in Australia that, unfortunately, is bound to be unpopular with Restaurants Canada, the Canadian Federation of Independent Business and the United Conservative Party’s Wexity fringe.
If you want to know what the UCP brain trust thinks about the dilemma, here’s what the Premier Kenney’s “issues manager” has to say:
“Those … promoting Australian-style lockdowns should at least be honest about some of the extreme, illiberal measures employed. ‘Just a few weeks’ turned to 4 months. And enforcement in practice wasn’t pretty.”
Arguably, 16 deaths, 108 people in intensive care, and 1,736 new COVID-19 cases in the previous 24 hours, plus more than 20,000 active cases over all, isn’t all that pretty either, no matter how many times the government mumbles “comorbidities.”
Perhaps this explains why, according to EKOS Research Associates president Frank Graves’ tweets last night, 70 per cent of the Albertans consulted in a recent survey disapproved of how the Kenney government is handling the pandemic.
Even with only three weeks of shopping left until Christmas, it’s odd it hasn’t occurred to Premier Kenney that’s a statistic worthy of attention.
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.