The Omicron surge is hitting everywhere in Canada, with Alberta reporting 872 new cases of the aggressive new variant of the COVID-19 virus over the weekend, bringing the total number of reported cases yesterday to 1,045.
If patterns observed elsewhere in the world are repeated here, though, this province could have well over 16,000 Omicron COVID-19 cases by New Year’s Day. By then it will be well on its way to becoming the dominant strain of COVID in Alberta.
Meanwhile, there’s no sign the Alberta Government has any plans to pull back from the relaxed COVID restrictions Premier Jason Kenney announced to widespread dismay less than a week ago on Dec. 15.
Experienced observers of Mr. Kenney’s conduct in office predict nothing will be done, if anything ever is, until after the moneymaking potential of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays has been fully exploited.
Indeed, there’s a chilling familiarity to the scene unfolding in Wild Rose Country. We’ve seen this all before, most strikingly during the fourth wave of COVID’s Delta variant last summer, which the premier promised would be “the Best Summer Ever” before decamping in August for parts unknown and leaving no one in charge.
There was no COVID-19 briefing by the premier or Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw yesterday.
NDP Health Critic David Shepherd did hold a news conference yesterday afternoon, telling reporters that “Jason Kenney and his UCP Government seem to have given up the fight and simply cut Albertans adrift.”
“The last time that Jason Kenney let Albertans know what his government was doing to confront Omicron was last week,” Mr. Shepherd said. “And that’s when he announced he was loosening restrictions to allow unvaccinated people to attend indoor social gatherings.”
Mr. Shepherd called on the premier to reverse the relaxation of COVID control measures and release modelling data.
Meanwhile, there’s been no indication so far in Kenney Government communications that anything is planned for today.
Dr. Hinshaw’s expected to hold a news conference to address the frightening situation, CTV’s Kevin Nimmock tweeted hopefully yesterday afternoon. “Her office would not confirm whether that news conference is scheduled,” he went on, though, “but she usually appears on Tuesdays.” (I have lightly edited Mr. Nimmock’s tweet to correct a minor typo. Emphasis is also added.)
Will Mr. Kenney be at the news conference? Or is he about to take a powder once again as he did last summer, and indeed has done serially whenever his government faces controversy or bad news?
Of course, in addition to the danger of the rising tide of Omicron infections growing into a full-fledged fifth wave of COVID, Mr. Kenney may also want to avoid questions about Friday’s flawed distribution of rapid COVID tests, not to mention his bitter rival Brian Jean’s selection as the UCP candidate in the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche by-election.
Meanwhile, though, there are troubling signs Mr. Kenney is once again flirting with the Great Barrington Declaration, the long discredited notion that all will be well if we just lock up the old folks for their own safety and let the pandemic rip till we all have herd immunity.
He talked like this last spring, and he was doing it again last week, when he sat down for an interview with a strangely precocious 12-year-old video-podcaster from Ontario and blithely allowed how “we have to expect that probably virtually everyone is going to be infected at this variant at some point. It’s that widespread.
“Let us hope that the early data coming from South Africa continues to hold and that it is probably a mild variant,” Mr. Kenney told Wyatt Sharpe, and we can all second that, although without the premier’s cheerful optimism.
I wrote last spring that Albertans had found themselves living in a Petri dish, “an ongoing experiment in how the Great Barrington declaration really works.”
As expected, it didn’t work very well.
That doesn’t seem to have weakened Mr. Kenney’s charming faith in the convenient doctrine, however.
Fasten your seat belts and cinch up your KN95 masks!
Update: At 10:30 a.m., the Alberta Government notified media that a news conference with Mr. Kenney, Dr. Hinshaw, and Health Minister Jason Copping is planned for 3:30 p.m. today.