Opening to danger?

Once again, Jason Kenney
bows to rural pressure

(Cole Buhler)

Editor’s notebook
By Benjamin Hollihan

FEB. 8, ALBERTA RELAXED some COVID-related restrictions. Dining in restaurants, one-on-one gym training, and children’s sports could resume, because the province was meeting lower COVID-19 hospitalization targets. For many, this relief followed two months of relative isolation.

Now, health experts are questioning the UCP’s plan. In a Feb. 4 Global News article, the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association (EZMSA) warned against Alberta Health Services prematurely dismissing the danger of new COVID-19 variants:

“The model showed the new variants could reach 10,000 new cases daily, and in excess of 3,500 hospitalizations, within only eight weeks,” EZMSA wrote, in a letter to Health Minister Tyler Shandro.

The situation has been worsened by an extremely delayed vaccine rollout. Alberta Health estimates the general population won’t even begin to see vaccines available until fall 2021.

Should the province relax with this new threat looming?

No, we shouldn’t.

Reopening with a new strain and no vaccine
will likely lead to more deaths

Kenney’s UCP apparently learned nothing in the past year. It shouldn’t surprise Edmontonians that the Premier has once again put the demands of rural Alberta first, propping up support among his base. (The UCP only claimed seven of the 27 ridings in Edmonton; so, it’s not surprising that our voice is faint in this government.)

And the rural base began to push back.

Jan. 8, Kenney announced the province would remain closed until Jan. 21 at the latest. Jan. 11, Bladez 2 Fadez hair salon in Innisfail announced it would open in the face of restrictions. Less than two weeks later, The Whistle Stop Café, in the hamlet of Mirror, announced on Jan. 23 it would open too.

Meanwhile, by not commenting, Kenney gave tacit support to the “Walk for Freedom” anti-lockdown protests in Calgary and Edmonton in December went ignored.

This phase of reopening has happened, despite warnings from health organizations like the EZMSA.

Alberta Health’s plan is the not the issue. The issue is the unexpected relaxation of restrictions of any kind, while a new, highly contagious variant is spreading. But Kenney’s rural base has little interest in that.

Hundreds still struggle to stay financially afloat. This year was devastating, and the restrictions on smaller businesses while big-box stores were essentially unharmed were frustrating. However, reopening without an accessible vaccine and a new strain will only lead to more deaths.

Perhaps it’s time to ask Kenney why he only accepted $12 million out of a possible $348 million in federal essential worker aid. Running a $24.2 billion deficit, the Premier can’t hide behind austerity and put us all in harm’s way.

Kenney and the UCP are failing the city and the province, possibly endangering urban dwellers for rural benefit.

Reopening isn’t the only way we have to move forward. It’s one chosen by Kenney with the next election in mind. The last poll had him at just 26 per cent support.

He needs those votes, and he’s shown that he’s willing to risk lives to get them.


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