“Today we are truly near the end of this thing. We’re finally getting back to normal, and I think it means the best Alberta summer ever.” – Premier Jason Kenney
Last week Premier Kenney, Dr Deena Hinshaw, and Health Minister Shandro (collectively KHS) unveiled Open for Summer, Alberta’s reopening plan.
Stage 1 starts two weeks after 50% of Albertans aged 12 and over have had their first dose and hospitalizations are below 800, Stage 2 starts two weeks after 60% of Albertans have had their first dose and hospitalizations are below 500, and Stage 3 kicks off two weeks after 70% of Albertans have had their first dose. There is no hospitalization metric for Stage 3.
Restrictions will be lifted as we pass through Stage 1 and 2, culminating with no restrictions (other than some protective measures) when we hit Stage 3.
This should be good news, right? So why do we feel uneasy?
As a public service to her readers Ms Soapbox sat through the three KHS press conferences (again) to try and understand why she’s hanging back from “the best Alberta summer ever.”
The experience was excruciating.
Who is the strictest in the land?
KHS say Alberta’s plan is more restrictive than the BC and Sask plans, but health writer Andre Picard disagrees. In an interview on The Current, Picard said with the exception of Ontario and Manitoba which are more cautious, the provincial plans are similar. They all aim to be fairly open by July.
Portraying Alberta’s plan as being more restrictive and therefore more cautious than our neighbours is misleading.
What is the plan based on?
KHS say Alberta’s plan is informed by the experience in other jurisdictions like the UK, Israel, and some US states.
The reopening plans of both Israel and the UK are more restrictive. Israel requires citizens to present “green badges” to gain admission to cultural events, restaurants, and health clubs and the UK’s is 4 months long.
The US jurisdictions Kenney relies on had significantly higher covid rates hence higher ‘natural immunity’ (more on that below) and no delays between the first and second doses.
Shandro said the plan is based on what we’ve seen in other jurisdictions around the world “but make no mistake, this is a plan that is tailor made for us.” Ah, that explains why BC cancelled the PNE and Ontario cancelled the CNE, but the Calgary Stampede and the premier’s pancake breakfast are still a go.
KHS’s assertion that Alberta’s plan is based on those of other jurisdictions is not credible.
Variants and the one dose vs two doses approach
KHS say Alberta could fully reopen on June 28 if we meet the 70% first dose vaccination threshold. They did not mention that variants have become dominant and, depending on the variant and the vaccine, a single dose may provide significantly less protection than two doses.
When pressed on this point they said:
- The 70% benchmark was chosen because it’s simple and won’t confuse the population. Please! It’s the restrictions, not the benchmarks, that are confusing.
- The 70% benchmark is supported by “deep analysis” on natural immunity, monitoring spread and getting second doses. Isn’t this work KHS should be doing as a matter of course? Why is it offered as a justification for not including a second dose benchmark? And about natural immunity. Kenney originally said Alberta’s natural immunity was 12%. Last week he said it was 14%. There is no evidence to support why the number is so high if it’s based on how many Albertans have recovered from covid, let alone how long this immunity lasts and how effective it is against the variants.
Albertans aren’t stupid. Please show your work.
Only anti-vaxxers criticize
The NDP Opposition questioned the pace of the reopening plan. Healthcare professionals like former CHOM Dr Talbot questioned both the pace and the one dose strategy.
Kenney dismissed these concerns with the glib comment that those who challenge the government’s plan are anti-vaxxers determined to undermine public trust in vaccines to impair Albertans’ fundamental freedoms with indefinite lockdowns.
This is ridiculous.
A responsible government unveiling its reopening plan would set politics aside. It would not muddy the waters with half-baked analogies to other jurisdictions, and it would anticipate and respond to concerns about variants which could lead us into a fourth wave.
Is that too much to ask?