Premier Jason Kenney promised last week the government’s COVID-19 cabinet committee would vote to remove the province’s vaccine passport — the Restrictions Exemption Program — early this week, despite the numbers of cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the province. Further word has yet to come.
“We can — and must — get on with our lives, restore our freedoms, and live with joy, not fear,” the premier tweeted Friday.
Kenney reinforced his message on the Roy Green Show on Saturday, saying a plan will be released early this week to lift nearly all public health measures.
“It will be data-based. It will be cautious, but it will be moving us back to getting our life back to normal to the greatest extent possible,” Kenney said. “We will be making decisions and releasing a plan to lift almost all public health measures. We will be releasing that plan early (next) week, and it will start with lifting the proof of vaccination program.”
The province declined to tell Global News when that meeting will occur, citing security concerns.
On Friday, when the premier made the announcement, there were 1,584 Albertans in hospital with COVID-19. By Monday, that number dropped to 1,542 while the number of people receiving care in the ICU remained at 118.
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Since Friday, Alberta also recorded an additional 39 COVID-19 deaths, bringing the total provincial death toll to 3,673.
Dr. Lynora Saxinger is an infectious diseases specialist at the University of Alberta who said its difficult to measure the REP’s effectiveness.
“It’s really difficult to know how successful something is when it’s been applied across the population in a changing situation,” she said. “But, its intent was to lessen the risk very susceptible people would be in contact with other susceptible people within the community.”
When it was implemented, the government said the goal of the REP was to motivate vaccine hesitant people to get the shot and to allow those hesitant to be around people without a vaccine feeling more comfortable returning to businesses.
As the REP is set to come to an end, Dr. Alex Wong said the program didn’t get a chance to finish its work.
“Those of us on the medical side want measures and proof of vaccine programs to continue for as long as possible in order to spur as much vaccine uptake as we can. However we understand the realities of the Prairies,” he said.
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Many Albertans have restriction-fatigue and despite best intentions, could end up getting Omicrom anyway, regardless of the REP, Saxinger said.
“But at the end of the day, most people did not get severely ill because they were vaccinated,” Saxinger said.
“There clearly was an increase uptick in vaccination [when the REP was announced]. You could argue an update to the REP to represent three doses of vaccination could probably be, from the point of view of public health, the preferable thing rather than ditching it entirely.”
An additional 4,618 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 was reported over the weekend. The province confirmed 2,106 cases on Friday, 1,389 cases on Saturday and 1,123 cases on Sunday. As of Monday, there were 30,094 active confirmed cases of COVID-19.
Due to limitations on the testing system, officials have previously said Alberta’s daily case count and active count of COVID-19 cases was likely 10 times higher.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, 508,051 Albertans have caught COVID-19 while 474,284 have recovered.
— with files from Carolyn de Castillo, Global News
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