‘Don’t live in fear’: Alberta to drop all major COVID restrictions for Canada Day

The clock is ticking in Alberta.The province will become the first Canadian jurisdiction to drop all restrictions just in time for Canada Day, after hitting the government’s goal Friday of getting a first vaccine dose into 70 per cent of the eligible population.The last step in the province’s reopening strategy is a full-blown leap back into normal life, the government says. Isolation requirements and some protection measures for long-term-care homes will remain, otherwise Albertans will be free to shop, dine and indoor gather like it’s early 2020 — with no provincial indoor mask mandate and no mandated social distancing.“We’re going to have a celebration on Canada Day about our new openness, and encourage people to get out there and support those small businesses that have been so hard hit in the past 16 months and do so with confidence,” Premier Jason Kenney said Friday.“Don’t live in fear.”As of Friday, 70.2 per cent of Albertans have had at least one dose.Up until Canada Day, Alberta will remain under current restrictions, which include a limit of 20 people on outdoor gatherings and restrictions on indoor retail and entertainment. Perhaps nowhere in Canada have tensions between public health restrictions and personal freedoms been as high as in Alberta. Many of Kenney’s own MLAs have spoken out against government measures, as officials struggled to enforce compliance with rules that were, for most of the pandemic, less restrictive than Ontario’s.At one point at least, Alberta had the fastest rising cases on the continent. But now, with vaccines arriving in the country and rapidly being pushed into arms, the Kenney government has set its sights on a full reopening as soon as possible.What has been dubbed the Open for Summer plan set the final hurdle at 70 per cent first-dose vaccination among eligible people ages 12 and up. Unlike the guidelines for reopening set out by Ontario and the federal government, there is no minimum level of second doses required to trigger a loosening of rules, which has concerned some public health experts.While the Prairie province is not the only government to make 70 per cent of first doses a goal, Alberta is the only one to use this to fully lift restrictions.Neighbouring British Columbia hit the same goal earlier this month, but officials there said it won’t move to the next stage of reopening until July 1. At that point, masks will still be recommended in public indoor settings, businesses such as casinos and nightclubs and sports centres will continue to face capacity limits. But Kenney has been clear that the reopening will pave the way for what he’s called Alberta’s best summer ever. This will also include the Calgary Stampede, which has announced it will go ahead, with restrictions, in early July.Rodeo performers coming from the U.S. have even been granted exemption from federal travel restrictions, though news earlier Friday that the U.S. border restrictions have been extended until July 21 may put a damper on visitor numbers.The century-old festival, which typically features a rodeo, concerts and a midway, is forging ahead even while major events across the country choose to stay shut for a second pandemic year. Alberta’s decision comes as concern grows about the new Delta variant, which is now spreading widely in Canada and has caused a serious outbreak at a hospital in Calgary, which has included cases among people who have been fully vaccinated. Two people have died, including one who was fully vaccinated.“I know there’s been a lot of attention paid to to the unfortunate deaths in Calgary hospitals of people who have been vaccinated and had contracted the Delta variant. So, these were both individuals in their 80s with multiple comorbidities,” Kenney said.“Very elderly, very frail, immunocompromised people with multiple comorbidities are going to continue to be vulnerable to any kind of disease.”The strain is more transmissible even than the variant first found in the U.K., and now makes up about 10 per cent of new cases in the province. Speaking earlier in the week, the province’s deputy medical officer of health, Dr. Andre Corriveau, said the province is hoping to speed up second doses now that federal shipments are increasing, which offer better protection against the new version of the virus. “In terms of whether we can avoid completely a fourth wave, or to what extent we might experience a fourth wave in the early fall, it will really depend on how many people by then have achieved their second dose,” he said.Corriveau also said that the province learned last year that the virus waned in the summertime, and a dip in cases is also expected this year. Alex Boyd is a Calgary-based reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @alex_n_boyd

‘Don’t live in fear’: Alberta to drop all major COVID restrictions for Canada Day

The clock is ticking in Alberta.

The province will become the first Canadian jurisdiction to drop all restrictions just in time for Canada Day, after hitting the government’s goal Friday of getting a first vaccine dose into 70 per cent of the eligible population.

The last step in the province’s reopening strategy is a full-blown leap back into normal life, the government says. Isolation requirements and some protection measures for long-term-care homes will remain, otherwise Albertans will be free to shop, dine and indoor gather like it’s early 2020 — with no provincial indoor mask mandate and no mandated social distancing.

“We’re going to have a celebration on Canada Day about our new openness, and encourage people to get out there and support those small businesses that have been so hard hit in the past 16 months and do so with confidence,” Premier Jason Kenney said Friday.

“Don’t live in fear.”

As of Friday, 70.2 per cent of Albertans have had at least one dose.

Up until Canada Day, Alberta will remain under current restrictions, which include a limit of 20 people on outdoor gatherings and restrictions on indoor retail and entertainment.

Perhaps nowhere in Canada have tensions between public health restrictions and personal freedoms been as high as in Alberta. Many of Kenney’s own MLAs have spoken out against government measures, as officials struggled to enforce compliance with rules that were, for most of the pandemic, less restrictive than Ontario’s.

At one point at least, Alberta had the fastest rising cases on the continent. But now, with vaccines arriving in the country and rapidly being pushed into arms, the Kenney government has set its sights on a full reopening as soon as possible.

What has been dubbed the Open for Summer plan set the final hurdle at 70 per cent first-dose vaccination among eligible people ages 12 and up. Unlike the guidelines for reopening set out by Ontario and the federal government, there is no minimum level of second doses required to trigger a loosening of rules, which has concerned some public health experts.

While the Prairie province is not the only government to make 70 per cent of first doses a goal, Alberta is the only one to use this to fully lift restrictions.

Neighbouring British Columbia hit the same goal earlier this month, but officials there said it won’t move to the next stage of reopening until July 1. At that point, masks will still be recommended in public indoor settings, businesses such as casinos and nightclubs and sports centres will continue to face capacity limits.

But Kenney has been clear that the reopening will pave the way for what he’s called Alberta’s best summer ever. This will also include the Calgary Stampede, which has announced it will go ahead, with restrictions, in early July.

Rodeo performers coming from the U.S. have even been granted exemption from federal travel restrictions, though news earlier Friday that the U.S. border restrictions have been extended until July 21 may put a damper on visitor numbers.

The century-old festival, which typically features a rodeo, concerts and a midway, is forging ahead even while major events across the country choose to stay shut for a second pandemic year.

Alberta’s decision comes as concern grows about the new Delta variant, which is now spreading widely in Canada and has caused a serious outbreak at a hospital in Calgary, which has included cases among people who have been fully vaccinated. Two people have died, including one who was fully vaccinated.

“I know there’s been a lot of attention paid to to the unfortunate deaths in Calgary hospitals of people who have been vaccinated and had contracted the Delta variant. So, these were both individuals in their 80s with multiple comorbidities,” Kenney said.

“Very elderly, very frail, immunocompromised people with multiple comorbidities are going to continue to be vulnerable to any kind of disease.”

The strain is more transmissible even than the variant first found in the U.K., and now makes up about 10 per cent of new cases in the province.

Speaking earlier in the week, the province’s deputy medical officer of health, Dr. Andre Corriveau, said the province is hoping to speed up second doses now that federal shipments are increasing, which offer better protection against the new version of the virus.

“In terms of whether we can avoid completely a fourth wave, or to what extent we might experience a fourth wave in the early fall, it will really depend on how many people by then have achieved their second dose,” he said.

Corriveau also said that the province learned last year that the virus waned in the summertime, and a dip in cases is also expected this year.

Alex Boyd is a Calgary-based reporter for the Star. Follow her on Twitter: @alex_n_boyd

Source : Toronto Star More   

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Waterloo Region’s Delta-fuelled COVID-19 surge is having the greatest impact on the homeless population

Waterloo Region is grappling with a continued surge of COVID-19 infections bolstered by the highly infectious Delta variant — and the homeless population has experienced the brunt of the outbreak. While Waterloo has not specified which congregate settings have had an outbreak, it’s listed them as the source of 94 cases, by far the largest source of infections in the region. The region told the Star about a dozen congregate sites make up the outbreak, and it’s not considered over.But to get infections under control, Waterloo Region needs to ramp up its strategy with those who use the shelter system and provide further resources to shelters, as more vaccines coming in won’t be enough without a targeted approach that convinces the population to take it, said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease doctor at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton.The region’s medical officer of health said the shelter population has been prioritized from the start of the vaccine rollout. But the homeless are vulnerable and will need extra supports to ensure the two-dose vaccine regimen is followed through, health experts and shelter workers said.“If it’s not being dealt with aggressively, it’s going to get out of control faster than the vaccines can put it back into control,” said Chagla. On Thursday the province announced it will provide mobile teams to run pop-up clinics in hot spot neighbourhoods, and two teams with trailers and tents will arrive in the region next week and remain for two weeks. The purpose of the mobile teams is to send extra help to where the Delta variant is taking hold.In recent weeks there have been a number of social gatherings that weren’t recommended, and that combined with the Delta variant has caused the cases to spike and hit vulnerable populations, said Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, the medical officer of health.“The Delta variant is broadly circulating in Waterloo region and has been for a few weeks,” she said. Waterloo prioritized the homeless early on in the vaccine rollout and worked with community partners, but it can be difficult to convince people to receive a shot, said Wang. She said that 83 per cent of the region’s cases are unimmunized people and 14 per cent are partially vaccinated. “We did everything that was needed to be done in trying to make sure they had isolation spaces, medical care and mobile teams were out for vaccination and testing,” she said. “And there’s been a bit more acceptance of the vaccine among this group, but we’re still working to get that acceptance.”Ontario reported Friday that the region had 85 new COVID cases, the second time this week it had the highest case counts in the province. The province reported 345 new cases, so nearly a quarter of the infections were from Waterloo Region.Cases in the region have been rising since June 3 and continue to spike as the provincial average has sharply declined amid widespread vaccine coverage. As of Friday, Waterloo had a seven-day moving average of 10.9 cases per 100,000 — about four times the province’s average of 2.7 cases.Ontario sped up second doses as of Wednesday in the region as well as Halton, Durham, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph and Porcupine, and it added Hamilton, Durham and Simcoe Muskoka on Thursday. Toronto and Peel have already been prioritized. In those regions, those vaccinated May 30 or earlier with a first dose can now receive a second dose.Elizabeth Clarke, the CEO of the YW Kitchener-Waterloo, which provides community services including shelters for women and their children, said COVID hadn’t hit the shelter system in the region to this degree before.“It’s just raced through the population,” she said. In their shelter they’ve had 18 positive client cases and two positive staff cases, she said, but no new cases in the last week.Waterloo received vaccinations later than other regions because it wasn’t dealing with the brunt of COVID in the province, so there’s some catching up to do in vaccinating the population including those who are homeless, said Clarke. Things should improve now that the focus is on the shelter system, she said. Only recently has there been such a focused effort to vaccinate the homeless, she said. “Now we’re having clinics come right into the shelters.” To better target the homeless population, Stacey Bricknell, the primary nurse practitioner at the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre, and her team are going to where people are living and eating to offer vaccination outside of the shelter system. Lately it’s been challenging to find people who are not already unwell, she said.“We really have to use the relationships we have with this population to try to educate and encourage people to have immunization, and recognize it will take more than one conversation,” she said.In March, those in emergency shelters were offered first doses and they had a decent supply, but the homeless population is vulnerable and requires further connections from community organizations to be convinced, she said.Br

Waterloo Region’s Delta-fuelled COVID-19 surge is having the greatest impact on the homeless population

Waterloo Region is grappling with a continued surge of COVID-19 infections bolstered by the highly infectious Delta variant — and the homeless population has experienced the brunt of the outbreak.

While Waterloo has not specified which congregate settings have had an outbreak, it’s listed them as the source of 94 cases, by far the largest source of infections in the region. The region told the Star about a dozen congregate sites make up the outbreak, and it’s not considered over.

But to get infections under control, Waterloo Region needs to ramp up its strategy with those who use the shelter system and provide further resources to shelters, as more vaccines coming in won’t be enough without a targeted approach that convinces the population to take it, said Dr. Zain Chagla, an infectious disease doctor at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton.

The region’s medical officer of health said the shelter population has been prioritized from the start of the vaccine rollout. But the homeless are vulnerable and will need extra supports to ensure the two-dose vaccine regimen is followed through, health experts and shelter workers said.

“If it’s not being dealt with aggressively, it’s going to get out of control faster than the vaccines can put it back into control,” said Chagla.

On Thursday the province announced it will provide mobile teams to run pop-up clinics in hot spot neighbourhoods, and two teams with trailers and tents will arrive in the region next week and remain for two weeks. The purpose of the mobile teams is to send extra help to where the Delta variant is taking hold.

In recent weeks there have been a number of social gatherings that weren’t recommended, and that combined with the Delta variant has caused the cases to spike and hit vulnerable populations, said Dr. Hsiu-Li Wang, the medical officer of health.

“The Delta variant is broadly circulating in Waterloo region and has been for a few weeks,” she said.

Waterloo prioritized the homeless early on in the vaccine rollout and worked with community partners, but it can be difficult to convince people to receive a shot, said Wang. She said that 83 per cent of the region’s cases are unimmunized people and 14 per cent are partially vaccinated.

“We did everything that was needed to be done in trying to make sure they had isolation spaces, medical care and mobile teams were out for vaccination and testing,” she said. “And there’s been a bit more acceptance of the vaccine among this group, but we’re still working to get that acceptance.”

Ontario reported Friday that the region had 85 new COVID cases, the second time this week it had the highest case counts in the province. The province reported 345 new cases, so nearly a quarter of the infections were from Waterloo Region.

Cases in the region have been rising since June 3 and continue to spike as the provincial average has sharply declined amid widespread vaccine coverage. As of Friday, Waterloo had a seven-day moving average of 10.9 cases per 100,000 — about four times the province’s average of 2.7 cases.

Ontario sped up second doses as of Wednesday in the region as well as Halton, Durham, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph and Porcupine, and it added Hamilton, Durham and Simcoe Muskoka on Thursday. Toronto and Peel have already been prioritized. In those regions, those vaccinated May 30 or earlier with a first dose can now receive a second dose.

Elizabeth Clarke, the CEO of the YW Kitchener-Waterloo, which provides community services including shelters for women and their children, said COVID hadn’t hit the shelter system in the region to this degree before.

“It’s just raced through the population,” she said. In their shelter they’ve had 18 positive client cases and two positive staff cases, she said, but no new cases in the last week.

Waterloo received vaccinations later than other regions because it wasn’t dealing with the brunt of COVID in the province, so there’s some catching up to do in vaccinating the population including those who are homeless, said Clarke.

Things should improve now that the focus is on the shelter system, she said. Only recently has there been such a focused effort to vaccinate the homeless, she said. “Now we’re having clinics come right into the shelters.”

To better target the homeless population, Stacey Bricknell, the primary nurse practitioner at the Kitchener Downtown Community Health Centre, and her team are going to where people are living and eating to offer vaccination outside of the shelter system. Lately it’s been challenging to find people who are not already unwell, she said.

“We really have to use the relationships we have with this population to try to educate and encourage people to have immunization, and recognize it will take more than one conversation,” she said.

In March, those in emergency shelters were offered first doses and they had a decent supply, but the homeless population is vulnerable and requires further connections from community organizations to be convinced, she said.

Bricknell is reminding the homeless population that the shot could help ease the restrictions they have faced.

“This has had a significant impact on the homeless population in terms of the spaces where they congregate, a lot of them have been closed,” she said. “A lot of folks would like to see a return to normal life.”

Olivia Bowden is a Toronto-based staff reporter for the Star. Reach her via email: obowden@thestar.ca

Source : Toronto Star More   

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