For the second day in a row, hundreds of Albertans protested the provincial government’s plan to lift mandatory COVID-19 isolation rules, scale back contact tracing and limit testing.
Rallies were held in Edmonton and Calgary on Saturday.
The restrictions rollback was announced on Wednesday.
Effective July 29, close contacts will no longer be notified of exposure by contact tracers nor will they be legally required to isolate. Asymptomatic testing is “no longer recommended,” the government said.
On Aug. 16, infected individuals won’t need to isolate. Isolation hotels will close as quarantine supports end. Provincial mandatory masking orders will be lifted but face coverings in some acute care facilities might be required.
Wednesday’s announcement by Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, came as the province recorded 194 cases of COVID-19 — the highest daily case count since early June.
In Alberta’s capital city, approximately 250 people went to the legislature to protest.
“We’re going to keep saying the same thing until the government listens,” said Dr. Tehseen Ladha, assistant professor at the University of Alberta in the faculty of medicine.
“This time with community organization and public protest, it really is owned by everyone who’s there. I think that’s really the message. There have been so many decisions by the provincial government that people have been upset, angry, anxious about. This [rally] is the culmination of everything.”
Ladha cited the Alberta Medical Association as one of a number of medical organizations provincially and federally that have been commenting and criticizing the province’s decision. The Canadian Paediatric Society and the Edmonton Zone Medical Association have sent formal letters.
Alda Ngo said she went to Saturday’s event because of concerns for her seven-year-old son.
“He’s not vaccinated and I just want to keep him safe,” she said. “I understand that we need to move on but I feel like it’s a bit premature.”
Anti-restriction protests near the same area on the legislature grounds have been ongoing for more than a year.
Morgan Banman, who was watching the doctor-led rally from above the steps, said he disagrees with the need for a redirection of restrictions in Alberta.
“At the end of the day, it’s up to the individual to enforce their rights,” he said.
People protest the Alberta government’s COVID-19 rule rollback at the legislature on Saturday, July 31, 2021.
Morgan Black/Global News
When asked about COVID-19 policies for the government and staffers, the province told Global News its own COVID-19 policies are “aligned with direction and guidance from the chief medical officer of health and in accordance with OHS.”
It said: “Just under half of government workers are currently working remotely and the vast majority will return to their workplaces in a phased approach starting next week and continuing until September 7.”
“Employees are free to continue to use face masks in the workplace as a personal choice, even if they are not required,” a statement read.
The Alberta Union of Provincial Employees’ vice-president, Susan Slade, said in a statement to Global News that the union is aware that some members are “uneasy with the wholesale lifting of all restrictions and want to assure them that their union will do everything in our power to ensure they are safe at work.”
“It is the employer’s legal responsibility to make sure their workers are safe at work and the union will address any member’s concerns when they do not feel safe,” Slade said.
With signs in hand, about 200 people turned out at McDougall Centre.
Dr. Joe Vipond, an emergency room physician based in Calgary, is calling for chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw’s resignation.
“It’s quite evident now that public health is not actually putting in policies to protect the health of the public. I think this is a travesty, and I think she should resign,” he said to applause.
“Pretty much every other doctor I know went into medicine for the explicit purpose of helping people. I can’t believe we have somebody who went into the practice of medicine for the specific purpose of protecting community health — the health of entire populations — and is putting that entire population at risk. I don’t know what to say, people. That’s crazy.”
Brett Boyden, a spokesperson for Health Minister Tyler Shandro’s office, said in an emailed statement to Global News on Saturday: “Dr. Hinshaw’s recommendations are informed by science, not politics. Attempts to sully her reputation by the leader of the Opposition and others are repugnant. Dr. Hinshaw deserves to be commended for her efforts to lead Alberta out of the pandemic and has the full support of Alberta’s government.”
Vipond feels unsafe in these dark times.
“I’ve never even heard at any time in Canadian history where a jurisdiction has decided to put its entire population at risk from a deadly disease that can also cause long-term disability,” he told the crowd.
We won’t be able to monitor our numbers and the disease is going to infect anyone who is susceptible, like the unvaccinated or those under 12, he explained.
“I call on the attorney general of Canada to reach out to our premier and say that you are not allowed to violate the Charter Rights of 4.5 million Albertans,” he said, citing the right to life, liberty and security.
“As far as travel restrictions, I can’t speak for other provinces, but I wouldn’t want — especially when we get deep into the fourth wave with the Delta variant and possibly new variants — I would not want Albertans to be in their province and I would not be travelling here.”
Parent Natasha Brubaker, whose child is considered high risk for the virus, said she was horrified by the rule changes. She said the government is choosing to put people at risk “by reducing reasonable protections.”
“Our children are, by definition, vulnerable. They have no option to protect themselves beyond these health measures and the decisions made by the adults they are counting on to care for them,” she said.
“I’m not suggesting a lockdown or reducing store capacity or closing restaurants. I am asking for reasonable steps to be taken to protect them and to prevent illness, deaths and possibly having to close our schools again.”
– With files from Morgan Black
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