According to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney’s logic, Alberta’s doing a better job of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic than New Zealand.
New Zealand, a country with a population roughly the same size as Alberta’s with a similar demographic makeup, is widely considered to be one of the few success stories in the global pandemic.
Alberta? Not so much.
Nevertheless, if we go by the premier’s sustained attacks on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, including at his final news conference on Thursday before the start of the Easter 2021 province-wide super-spreader long weekend, you’d think this was all about vaccinations.
Praising the U.S. state of Florida for opening business and social activities despite high COVID-19 infection rates, Premier Kenney told the news conference that “if our federal government didn’t put Canada at the back of the line for buying vaccines, we’d be where they are in those U.S. states.” (Emphasis added.)
“But if you think of the virus-versus-vaccine fight as a kind of race,” he continued, “well, federal dithering on vaccines gave the virus a huge head start in that race.”
That was a telling remark. Treating the response to COVID-19 as a race between vaccines and the virus illustrates exactly the approach taken by the United Conservative Government in Alberta and many other Canadian jurisdictions to the pandemic.
Mr. Kenney has long assumed vaccines can save him from the economic and political consequences of a lockdown.
Responding to a reporter’s question on Thursday about why the government won’t implement more stringent restrictions to stop the spread of COVID-19 in the face of widespread defiance of the rules, Mr. Kenney said of Albertans, “if they’re not complying with the current restrictions, they’re not likely to comply with additional restrictions.”
This, of course, is only true if the government refuses to enforce the rules – which is clearly the policy of the UCP Government.
Perhaps Mr. Kenney fears his anti-vaxx base, or the COVID denying MLAs in his own caucus. Even some cabinet ministers seemed to feel free to stretch the rules, if you go by their social media posts.
At the news conference, Premier Kenney speculated that “one of the reasons of lot of Albertans (have) kinda given up on all of it, given up on complying, is because they say, ‘Hey, they’re back to normal in a lot of U.S. states, why can’t we be?’”
“And the answer,” he continued, “is it’s because they are far ahead of us on the vaccination program. In the race between the vaccines and the variants, the vaccines appear to have won in the United States. In Canada right now, the virus is winning because of the short supply.”
Needless to say, without defending the many flaws of Ottawa’s acquisition program, this is a tendentious interpretation of the situation.
So let us now return to the situation in New Zealand, where the population last year reached five million. Alberta’s is about 4.4 million.
On March 31, the day before Mr. Kenney’s news conference at which he blamed Alberta’s problems on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, New Zealand reported four new COVID-19 cases. The same day, Alberta recorded 875 new cases, which were reported on April 1. (Yesterday, Alberta reported another 1,100 new cases!)
Since the start of the pandemic to March 31, New Zealand had reported a total of 2,591 cases and 26 deaths from COVID-19.
In the same period, Alberta recorded 149,207 cases and 1,994 deaths.
So, obviously, New Zealand is doing something better than Alberta, notwithstanding some significant advantages experienced by that island country – among them the fact it’s isolated in the South Pacific, has full control over its own borders, and isn’t next door to the a festering COVID disaster zone like the United States.
So what could it be that New Zealand has done better than Alberta?
Well, it’s not vaccinations.
As of March 31, New Zealand had vaccinated 52,183 of its citizens with at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine. That’s about 1.04 per cent of its population. A total of 14,113 New Zealanders have been completely vaccinated with two shots – 0.3 per cent of the population.
By contrast, Alberta has vaccinated 653,010 citizens, or 14.9 per cent of its population, with one shot; 103,926 of them, 2.4 per cent, with both shots.
So by this measure – touted by the premier as the metric that matters – New Zealand is well behind Alberta.
The difference, of course, is that unlike Alberta, from the get-go New Zealand took the need to lock down seriously.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described her country’s efforts last year as the strictest regulations in the world. And for those harsh rules, she said, she would “make no apologies.” The country locked down early, aimed for zero cases, and largely succeeded. And it has done so without seriously impacting the fundamentally democratic nature of New Zealand.
Mr. Kenney, by contrast, was in a hurry to open the economy from the start. He was warned this would end up costing more, but he ignored that advice with the second wave, and he’s ignoring it with the third.
The impact is clear in the rising numbers of COVID-19 cases that continue to plague Alberta. God only knows what will happen two weeks from now when the impact of the Easter weekend is felt.
Mr. Kenney right about one thing, though.
Vaccination is now of critical importance thanks to the province’s refusal to enforce the inadequate restrictions it has in place even as a frightening third wave rolls over us.
Indeed, it’s our only line of defence.
As for the claim this is all Ottawa’s fault, that’s obviously baloney. Mr. Kenney is going to have to wear his share of this disaster himself.