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Social distancing could lift by end of May; 800,000 COVID-19 infections predicted for Alberta

On Tuesday night, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney addressed the province in a televised speech, where he said the provincial models project social distancing measures may begin to relax by the end of May. Anywhere between 18 and 23 per cent of Albertans are projected to contract COVID-19.
Jason Kenney

The Alberta government predicts social distancing measures could lift by the end of May.

On Tuesday night, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney addressed the province in a televised speech, where he said the provincial models project social distancing measures may begin to relax by the end of May. Anywhere between 18 and 23 per cent of Albertans are projected to contract COVID-19.

“We simply cannot risk letting the virus loose in Alberta. That would create a public health catastrophe, which would force an even more stringent lockdown in the future, leaving our economy even further battered,” Kenney said.

The premier said that means current public health orders must stay in place until at least the end of April, and the models suggest social distancing will last until the end of May.

“As hard as this will be, it is the only ethical choice when thousands of lives are still at stake,” Kenney said.

Once the government loosens the restrictions, a new testing regime and other measures will be put in place to keep Albertans safe. 

Right now the government is working with two scenarios: a probable scenario for COVID-19 and an elevated scenario.

The probable scenario projects the peak of infection to hit mid-May. From the beginning of the outbreak to the end of summer, the province could see as many as 800,000 infections, and between 400 and 3,100 deaths. With 4.371 million people living in Alberta, that would mean around 18 per cent of residents would contract the virus. In this scenario between 0.05 per cent and 0.387 per cent of those who contract the virus would die.

If an elevated scenario were to happen, although it is less likely, the province would see infections peak at the beginning of May and have as many as 1 million infections and between 500 and 6,600 deaths. This scenario would see roughly 23 per cent of people in the province getting infected with COVID-19. In this scenario between 0.05 per cent and 0.6 per cent of people who contract the virus would die.

“I know that these numbers can be overwhelming. But these models are not a done deal,” Kenney said.

“I want Albertans to see them as a challenge.”

RELATED: Alberta Premier Jason Kenney tells province to brace for "challenging" numbers ahead of COVID-19 address

If the province had no social distancing and public health orders in place, Alberta could see as many as 1.6 million infections and 32,000 deaths in Alberta, which could be as many as 640 deaths per day.

“Our health system would collapse under the chaos of that scenario. Albertans won’t let that happen,” Kenney said.

Kenney said right now Alberta’s per capita numbers of infections is the second-highest in Canada, next to Quebec, and that is partly due to the “brilliant” health care workers who are conducting one of the highest levels of COVID-19 testing in the world, which helps identify more positive cases.

“That’s a good thing, because it has helped us track the close contacts of those who are infected, which limits the spread,” Kenney said.

The premier said the rate that Albertans are hospitalized with COVID-19 and those who go to ICU is “much lower” than those in other large provinces, like Ontario, Quebec and B.C.

“However, those provinces saw their first cases before we did, so we might still catch up to their numbers,” Kenney said.

But the premier said the good news is that the curve in Alberta is much lower than in many other parts of the world.

“So far, our curve more closely resembles countries that have successfully fought the virus, like South Korea, than the sharp upward rise seen in countries like Italy, Spain, and the United States,” Kenney said.

But Alberta isn’t out of the woods yet, and Kenney said the situation could worsen if Albertans do not continue to follow the public health orders in place.

Keep following public health orders

Kenney said it is important for Albertans to continue to make good choices to prevent the spread of infection, prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed and lower the amount of deaths from COVID-19.

That means rigorously following simple, basic rules like these:

  • Wash your hands frequently for at least twenty seconds with warm, soapy water – and always after you have been outside or before you touch your face
  • Sneeze or cough into your elbow or arm
  • When you can, stay home
  • Try to stay at least six feet away from other people outside your home
  • Stay at home for two weeks if you are sick, or have returned from outside the country
  • Wear a covering over your nose and mouth if you are going into a crowded area.

Economics and healthcare intertwined

The premier said the province is not facing just one crisis, but rather three.

Alberta is battling a pandemic, which is the greatest threat to public health in a century; a shutdown of the local and global economy, which has led to a deep global recession; and a collapse of global energy prices that threatens the province's largest industry.

Kenney said these crises come after five years of difficult economic times in the province.

He said it is important to save both lives and livelihoods, but the first priority is the health of Albertans.

“At the same time, the huge damage to our economy – to livelihoods – is also having a real impact on the health and well-being of Albertans,” Kenney said.

“We cannot focus on either the pandemic or the economy. The two are intertwined.”

The premier said the province must do everything in its power to defeat COVID-19 and the faster the pandemic is stopped, the faster the economy can restart and there can be a path to recovery.

20,000 tests a day, border screening, tracking phones

The premier said the province is already working toward a relaunch strategy for Alberta, which includes running 20,000 COVID-19 tests a day.

“We are determined to continue leading the world in testing, the foundation of our relaunch strategy,” Kenney said.

The province is working toward “an aggressive system of mass testing” which will use new tests that are being approved right now to identify positive cases and those with immunity more quickly.

Strong border screening will remain in place, Kenney said.

COVID-19 UPDATE: Follow our COVID-19 special section for the latest news on the coronavirus pandemic, as well as resources, FAQs and more.

“I believe it was a mistake for Canada to wait so long to close our borders, especially from countries with high levels of infection. While Alberta does not control who can fly here, we will deploy a much more rigorous approach than the federal government has in screening and quarantining international arrivals,” Kenney said.

The premier said they will strictly enforce quarantine orders to ensure compliance, and they use smartphone apps when appropriate.

The province will also encourage and facilitate the use of masks in public spaces, like mass transit.

“These and other smart, focused measures will allow us to relaunch our economy once the worst is over, while protecting ourselves from future outbreaks. We will closely study successful countries as our guide.”

But the premier said this virus will continue to pose a threat to public health until a vaccine or treatment is widely available.

“Great fiscal reckoning in the future”

Once the pandemic wraps up, Kenney said the economy will take a while to recover because of a crash of energy prices.

With the collapse of revenues, this pandemic will have a massive impact on the province's finances. Alberta’s budget deficit might triple from $7 billion to almost $20 billion.

“We will face a great fiscal reckoning in the future," Kenney said.

“I cannot overstate how grave the implications of this will be for jobs, the economy and the financial security of Albertans."

Western Canadian Select is current sitting at $3 per barrel and there is a real possibility that Alberta energy prices will hit negative prices. Kenney said this is due to the COVID-19 recession, but it has been made worse by the price war led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, who are attempting to permanently damage North America's oil industry.

Kenney said the province is in discussion with U.S. leaders about a co-ordinated defence of North American energy independence, and the province has made investments in Keystone XL. The measures will help the province take control of its economic destiny.

The province has also put together an Economic Recovery Council and has committed $12 billion to a COVID-19 action plan to help families and employers during this difficult time.

“We will do more, including a huge new investment in job-creating infrastructure projects,” Kenney said.

Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

About the Author: Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Great West Newspapers based in St. Albert, Alta.
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