EDMONTON – Premier Jason Kenney dismisses accusations he blames the province’s Chief Medical Officer of Health for Alberta’s failures in handling the fourth wave of COVID-19.
“The responsibility ends with me,” Kenney said in the House in response to questions from the opposition NDP on Wednesday.
“I took my responsibilities. Of course, we take sound advice from our health officials, especially the Chief Medical Officer of Health.
“The idea that I would assign the blame is absurd.”
The NDP asked for details on why the government took no action in August, as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations were approaching dangerous levels and doctors urged to take measurements.
Earlier this week, during a House debate, Kenney said they would have called a cabinet meeting and acted on such recommendations in August from Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, if she had any. provided.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley said she was skeptical that Kenney would have called such a meeting, mocking the Prime Minister as “Tom Brady of the buck pass,” a reference to the star quarterback of the NFL.
Kenney responded that the government acts when Hinshaw makes recommendations.
He noted in mid-August that his government had canceled a plan to reduce COVID-19 testing, tracing and isolation measures under Hinshaw’s leadership.
When asked by reporters later about why he was breaching Cabinet confidentiality to report on Hinshaw’s actions, Kenney said, “This is not about blaming. I was just transparent about when we received information or advice.
Hinshaw, who was asked why she had made no recommendation on health restrictions at the end of August, said that while they could see cases increasing, intensive care cases were relatively low and stable.
She said they decided to come up with additional recommendations when that changed in late August and intensive care cases started to increase.
“The things that I personally have always taken very seriously are the responsibility to minimize the direct impacts of COVID on the population and the responsibility to minimize the indirect impacts of the COVID restrictions on the population,” Hinshaw said.
The Kenney government did not introduce new measures until early September. At that point, the crisis forced the government to scramble to double the number of intensive care beds, cancel thousands of surgeries, and call in the armed forces to provide medical aid.
The increase in cases came after the Kenney government lifted nearly all public health restrictions on July 1.
He and Hinshaw said it was a mistake as it was based on what turned out to be flawed projections from the UK which suggested any increase in COVID-19 cases could be addressed within existing capacity of the health system.
Notley said the results were tragic and predictable: “Alberta’s approach in Wave Four caused five times the death rate (per capita) of Ontario’s.
The number of vaccines has increased dramatically since Kenney announced a modified vaccine passport system in mid-September. Over 87 percent of eligible Albertans, aged 12 and over, have received at least one injection and over 80 percent are fully immunized.
There are fewer than 7,000 active cases and 697 people hospitalized with COVID-19 – both numbers representing a steep drop from the peak of Wave Four.
Health Minister Jason Copping said the system was starting to work despite the backlog of surgeries and no further cancer operations were being delayed.
The NDP called for a thorough analysis of what went wrong in August to prevent such a crisis from happening again. They have called for the creation of an all-party committee with subpoena powers and are asking the Auditor General to investigate.
Kenney has said there will be a review, but now is not the time as Alberta is still battling the pandemic.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on November 3, 2021.
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