When it concerns COVID-19, our premier talks like Churchill but strolls like Chamberlain

Alberta’s efforts to respond to the coronavirus pandemic with Jason Kenney in the driver’s seat are a lot like standup comedian Billy Connolly’s iconic routine about union negotiations, only without the profanity and without actually being funny.

What’s going to happen tomorrow?

Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw at the same event (Photo: Chris Schwarz, Government of Alberta).

The plans will all be changed thenso stay awake!

Having implemented tougher new restrictions only two weeks ago in the face of burgeoning cases of COVID-19 and then seeing new daily case numbers ease off a little, Alberta’s premier called a press conference yesterday to announce new holiday exceptions to the rules.

Given the time it takes COVID-19 to show up as diagnosable illness — about two weeks — it’s really a little too soon to know if the old new plan is working, although the numbers of new cases reported in the past few days, while still dangerously high, are admittedly hopeful.

Yesterday, there were 1,021 new cases reported, the lowest since Nov. 25. Eleven people died of coronavirus disease.

So if we can just get through the Christmas and New Year’s holidays without a lot of partying, maybe there’s a little glimmer of hope at the end of the tunnel — unless that wavering light is the new U.K. virus rattling down the Chunnel rails in our direction.

So that obviously sounded to our premier like an excellent time to loosen the restrictions over the holiday long weekend.

This guy may want us to think he’s Winston Churchill, but when it comes to dealing with the virus – or at least with his friends in the fastfood lobby and the loony libertarian fringe of his United Conservative Party – his instinct is to go all Neville Chamberlain!*

So, yesterday’s new, revised holiday plan goes like this:

Comedian Billy Connolly (Photo: Sean Reynolds, Creative Commons).

People who live alone in Alberta will now be allowed to attend one event — just one! — at another household over the long Christmas weekend, which according to the government runs from today until Dec. 28.

“This is a small change that was just adopted based on advice from the minister of health, with input from the chief medical officer, by the COVID cabinet committee,” Mr. Kenney said, no doubt describing accurately who was involved without necessarily giving much insight in to how the sudden decision was reached.

And if you consider that that Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw was tweeting about the old rules yesterday morning, it seems likely this was all cooked up at the morning COVID cabinet committee. (Old copy editor here, but wouldn’t it be better to call this the cabinet COVID committee? I digress)

“It will make a world of difference for single Albertans who otherwise would not be able to visit their families over Christmas,” Mr. Kenney went on — and he should know, he’s a single Albertan himself!

“It will allow parents who would otherwise spend Christmas alone to welcome their children home for the holidays,” he enthused, a decision some of them will doubtless come to regret for one reason or another.

During the holiday weekend — which curiously according to the government lasts five days — a household may “only host a maximum of two people who live alone and only one event (not including minors)”

Anyone who lives alone may only attend one gathering during this time, Dr. Hinshaw said, explaining that the weekend had been stretched to accommodate schedules of people who do shift work. First responders, of course, were mentioned.

According to the government’s press release, read aloud by Dr. Hinshaw during the presser, “this approach strives to balance mental wellness for individuals living alone and the need to limit spread” — and I guess we’ll all see just how well it balanced them in about two weeks.

“We know that Christmastime, for lots of reasons, is bound up with people’s emotional and mental health, and we don’t want to make the already serious mental-health crisis in the province even more serious for people being completely isolated at Christmastime,” the premier chimed in.

If this confuses you, don’t worry, its ambiguity will confuse a lot of other people too. Many will err on the side of incaution. And, of course, there is essentially no way to enforce it. So look for another surge in cases in mid-January.

Hey, people are finally signing onto the Alberta app — or maybe not

Albertans are still denied access to Ottawa’s COVID Alert coronavirus exposure app. But don’t worry about it!

According to yesterday’s press release 287,251 Albertans are now using the province’s ABTraceTogether app, 66 per cent of them on Apple’s operating system and 34 per cent on Android.

“On average, 22 new users were registering every hour” the release breathlessly reported.

There’s just one thing the release didn’t mention.

The government has ordered that the Alberta app must be loaded on all work smartphones used by Government of Alberta and Alberta Health Services employees.

That’s a lot of cell phones, although I couldn’t tell you how many exactly. Nor can I tell you how many of those phones are used by more than one employee, and whether all those users are being counted in that total.

Those might be a good questions for reporters to ask at tomorrow’s COVID-19 briefing.

*This is a blog for politically educated readers. I shouldn’t have to explain every metaphor to you.

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