The leaders of Alberta’s largest public and private sector unions are immediately calling for drastic lockdown measures to combat the spiraling COVID-19 Omicron variant.
The leaders are calling for no personalized service at restaurants and bars, closing theaters and casinos, closing gyms, suspending recreational sports and sending students home as a last resort to learn online.
They say it’s a tough call, but necessary to prevent the rapidly spreading strain from flooding hospitals and overwhelming a depleted, exhausted staff of frontline health workers.
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But a spokesman for Prime Minister Jason Kenney says the United Conservative government is following and acting on the scientific data for the Omicron wave and a lockdown is not being considered.
Alberta Health reports that 708 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 – an increase of 73 from a day earlier – of whom 80 are in intensive care.
There are now over 58,000 active COVID-19 cases in Alberta, but Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the Chief Medical Officer of Health, has said the number of cases is low and actual infections are likely 10 times higher.
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The unions issued an open letter on Tuesday calling for a lockdown.
The letter is signed by the United Nurses of Alberta, the Alberta Teachers’ Association and the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, the largest public sector union in the province.
They say the latest wave of COVID-19 could have been avoided last month if the Kenney government had put in place stricter health restrictions and initiatives, such as supplying high-quality N95 masks to workers and installing highly efficient air filtration systems.
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“Due to the government’s dangerous political pandering and its willful policy negligence, we now have only two options to choose from: temporary circuit breaker measures on the one hand, or a collapse of the health care system and increasing illness, disability and death, on the one hand. . the other,” the union leaders write.
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“We, along with what we expect would be a clear majority of Albertans, are choosing temporary circuit breaker measures as the lesser of two evils.”
The unions are also calling for a ban on concerts and sporting events and for religious services to go online.
They add that the government needs to renew income support to keep affected companies solvent.
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Justin Brattinga, a spokesperson for Kenney, responded in a short statement to the letter: “As we have done during the pandemic, we will follow the science and advice of our public health officials.
“A circuit breaker is not on the table nor is it considered.”
The Kenney government introduced new restrictions on public gatherings in late December, including half capacity at large venues and events.
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Most universities have already gone online indefinitely this month.
Kindergarten and primary school students returned to class this week after an extra week off so staff could prepare for Omicron.
The province is providing more masks and rapid tests to schools and has said students and staff will be the priority as millions more masks arrive this month.
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The opposition NDP says Kenney has again failed to deal seriously with another wave of COVID-19 and is calling on the county to release its projections of the Omicron wave so that parents, students, employers and employees can see what’s to come.
Hinshaw said Monday that health officials are bracing for what she called “significant impact” on the health system, with a county positivity rate of about 40 percent.
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Both Hinshaw and Kenney say vaccines offer the best protection against the Omicron wave.
Nearly eight million COVID-19 vaccinations have been delivered in the province.
Nearly 90 percent of those eligible — ages 12 and older — have had at least one dose, and more than 85 percent have been fully vaccinated.
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