Greater than 1,000 Albertans have passed away from COVID-19, fifty percent of them in the previous month

Albertans learned yesterday the grim toll from COVID-19 in the province has now passed 1,000 deaths.

This is a terrible tragedy but it need surprise no one, given humanity’s extensive knowledge of the science of infectious disease and the way the Kenney Government nevertheless dragged its feet each step of the way to avoid taking the sharp measures needed to control this pandemic.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: Government of Alberta).

With our government always in a hurry to get back to business, it took 261 days from the arrival of the pandemic in Alberta, almost nine months, for the first 500 people to die, the CBC’s Robson Fletcher pointed out last night in a tweet. It took only 34 days for the next 500 to succumb to the coronavirus, he noted.

In the past five days, while we received no sobering reports on what was happening with the spread of the infection that might have discouraged risky behaviour over the holiday, 112 Albertans died of coronavirus disease, bringing the provincial death toll to 1,002.

Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw also emphasized that the number of new cases declined over the holiday season during yesterday’s COVID-19 briefing – at which there was no sign of Premier Jason Kenney.

There may be cause for optimism in this decline, or not. But as Dr. Hinshaw conceded, the declining numbers are at least partly the result of fewer lab tests being performed over the holiday. Some people have chosen to put celebration first and worry about illness later.

Significantly, the number of people being treated in hospital for COVID-19 has not declined. So while one certainly hopes that the lower number of reported cases means the trend has turned downward, don’t bet the farm just yet that the decline augers a parallel drop in the actual number of new infections.

The government should hold off on patting itself on the back about the effectiveness of its recent restrictions, which while tougher than the previous rules are inconsistent and being only reluctantly enforced. Shopping malls remain open.

Health Minister Tyler Shandro (Photo: Government of Alberta).

After Dr. Hinshaw’s grim news conference. Mr. Kenney issued a short statement on the fatalities.

“Each one means that there is a family that is grieving, a friend who has lost someone they loved, a child who lost their parent, a partner who lost their true love,” he said in part. “To all those who are grieving, Alberta grieves with you. …”

The instant public reaction on social media was harsh, from all sides of the political spectrum. There seems to be a fury in the land, to borrow a line from an earlier moment in Canadian history. Many reminders of the premier’s “an influenza” remark about COVID-19 appeared on Twitter. Readers can read the ratio that followed Mr. Kenney’s first tweet about his message themselves.

“Even as we reach this painful milestone, there is reason for hope,” Mr. Kenney’s statement continued, in what is sure to be a key United Conservative Party talking point in the grim days ahead. “The first Albertans have already received the COVID-19 vaccine, and more are getting vaccinated every day. As of today, more than 6,000 Albertans have received their first vaccine doses.”

Dr. Hinshaw noted yesterday that Alberta has received 25,350 doses of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine but has only administered the 6,015 doses referenced by Mr. Kenney. A first shipment of 3,900 doses arrived two weeks ago.

Remember that Health Minister Tyler Shandro predicted two weeks ago that Alberta would immunize 29,000 health care workers by the end of December. Clinic staff are going to have to work quickly if Alberta expects to administer another 22,985 doses in the next three days!

We might want to start keeping clinics open on holidays, as well. Because it’s not very reassuring that the Alberta and Ontario governments – led by men who used to brag they finished each other’s sentences – shut down vaccination programs on recent statutory holidays, almost as if they thought the virus would take the day off too.

As befits the attitude illustrated by the holiday shutdowns, both provinces are at the bottom of the list of Canadian jurisdictions for the per capita number of residents who have been vaccinated. Ontario is last, at least.

We can be confident that Conservative provincial governments will do their best to blame the Liberal Government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for any delays in the roll-out of vaccines, ably assisted, no doubt, by such major Conservative media as the Globe and Mail and Postmedia.

We can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Mr. Kenney promised in his statement on the COVID-19 deaths.

No one who lived through years of the Vietnam War can hear that phrase without experiencing a chill.

Did someone’s U.K. holiday just get COVID-complicated?

The Premier’s Office needs to respond to reports on social media that Mr. Kenney’s chief of staff chose the middle of a coronavirus pandemic, when the federal government has strongly discouraged international travel for any reason and the Alberta government should be focused on responding to the pandemic here at home, to travel to England, apparently for a vacation.

The timing of this trip, if confirmed, is inauspicious to say the least, since the appearance of a new variant of the coronavirus, thought to be more infectious than previous strains, has resulted in many counties, including Canada, closing their borders to flights from the U.K.

Well, I suppose the premier’s senior staff can always work by Zoom like the rest of us do, but it does suggest the Kenney Government needs to straighten out its priorities at this critical moment in the pandemic. Perhaps an explanation of the reasons for the trip would also be in order.

Ed Finn, 94

Journalist, trade unionist, Order of Canada recipient Ed Finn (Photo: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives).

Ed Finn, journalist, historian, NDP activist and fierce defender of the right of working people to be represented by a trade union, died Sunday. He was 94. He published his last blog post in October.

“His knowledge of labour history was unparalleled, his commitment to labour’s cause unshakable,” Erika Shaker of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives wrote of Mr. Finn yesterday. “In spite of his age, Ed was someone for whom his increasing years never suggested mortality but, rather, timelessness and permanence.”

He was appointed a member of the Order of Canada earlier this year. He will be missed.

Jeanne Lougheed, 92

Jeanne Lougheed, wife of former Conservative Premier Peter Lougheed and an advocate for the arts, died yesterday. She was 92. Flags at the Legislature Building in Edmonton and the MacDougall Centre in Calgary will fly at half-staff this week.

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