As Alberta COVID variant cases rise, Jason Kenney resorts to public health restrictions

Kenney says Alberta is now seeing a third wave of COVID-19, driven mainly by the more contagious and dangerous variants

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EDMONTON — With COVID-19 cases on the ascent once again in Alberta, Premier Jason Kenney on Tuesday evening announced he was reinstituting some public health restrictions in order to clamp down on infectious variants that threatened to swamp the health-care system.

As of Friday, restaurants must close to in-person dining. Retail stores will be allowed 15 per cent customer capacity rather than the current 25 per cent, and low-intensity group fitness activities are once again banned.

Indoor social gatherings remain banned and outdoor get-togethers can have no more than 10 people.

Kenney says Alberta is now seeing a third wave of COVID-19, driven mainly by the more contagious and dangerous variants.

The province has averaged about 1,000 new COVID-19 cases a day during the Easter long weekend, and the death total has now surpassed 2,000 in the province.

So far, Kenney has been reluctant to bring in restrictions, indicating the challenging position the premier finds himself in, with a fractious caucus, a restive population and other battles.

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Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt, says Kenney is in a situation where  he is being pressured  from all sides — among supporters for too-stringent rules and opponents for not-stringent-enough rules.

“He has been pretty much through this whole pandemic,” said Bratt. “It really has echoes of last November, where he held the line and then a couple weeks later reversed course. And that’s what that’s looking like right now.”

At the moment, the province has roughly 10,500 active cases. That is about half of the number Alberta reached back in December when the province was forced to clamp down. Hospitalization numbers, too, remain low in comparison, with roughly 230 in hospital and another 70 in intensive care.

Back in late December and early January, more than 900 people were hospitalized with COVID-19.

Variant cases represent more than one-third of all active COVID-19 cases in the province. On Monday, the Edmonton Journal reported an outbreak of the Brazilian variant infected 26 people at PTW Energy Services work sites.

Within the United Conservative caucus, there has been resistance to further public health measures. Drew Barnes, a Medicine Hat MLA, and Angela Pitt, an Airdrie MLA, have both publicly opposed such measures. And in some constituencies around the province, some businesses and churches have refused to follow public-health measures. There have been a number of anti-mask and lockdown protests.

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But his most vocal criticism has come from the opposition New Democrats. On Monday, NDP leader Rachel Notley said that Kenney is a “weak and ineffective” premier.

“His dithering and delay means more harm to small businesses and workers, more chaos in schools, more intense pressure on our health-care heroes, more infections, more serious life-changing illness, and more lives lost,” Notley said.

Polling throughout the pandemic suggests those who support the UCP are loudest among those who oppose further public-health restrictions. A ThinkHQ poll from last November found that 19 per cent of UCP voters felt the rules went too far, compared to just three per cent of New Democrat voters.

— With additional reporting from The Canadian Press

• Email: tdawson@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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