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'Now is not the time': Alberta doctors offer perspectives on when to lift COVID-19 restrictions


As Alberta is poised to relax some pandemic restrictions, some doctors are urging the province not to remove measures prematurely

In a Facebook Live session on Thursday, Premier Jason Kenney said that Albertans can expect to see an announcement this week that will scrap some restrictions, with more than 20 members of the United Conservative Party Caucus calling for an end to the Restrictions Exemption Program (REP).

"These mandates may have served a purpose earlier in the pandemic," said Speaker Nathan Cooper in a Thursday Facebook post. "They were brought in on the advice of medical professionals in an effort to limit spread of the virus and prevent stress on the healthcare system.

"However, two years on, we can now see that the Restrictions Exemption Program is having limited continued effect, and I stand with my constituents in calling on the premier, health minister, and the government caucus to lift the public health restrictions," he added.


Two Edmonton doctors aren't convinced that ending the vaccine passport program at this point the pandemic is the right move.

Dr. Noel Gibney, University of Alberta professor emeritus in the department of critical care medicine, said that while cases are trending down, hospitalizations remain high.

"We have the highest amount of patients in hospital with COVID since the pandemic first started, and we are having 100 people die every week in the province from COVID," Gibney told CTV News.

"The worry with this is that if we actually release these measures too soon that we could find that we actually do not fall as rapidly as we should fall, and we end up with a prolonged wave."

Gibney said most urban hospitals remain at or near capacity and that the province still has pandemic response units in Edmonton and Calgary.

"We are in a situation where we are overfull," he added. "And we risk prolonging that and prolonging the pressure on the surgical procedures that are getting backlogged again."

Intensive care physician Dr. Darren Markland agrees, saying that hospital staff are already dealing with extreme fatigue, staffing pressure, and overall sicker patients moving through the healthcare system as people have had limited access to primary care physicians for the past two years.

"If we continue to go down this pathway," Markland said, "our quality of care will continue to drop. We are going to get stuck in a circle where people get sicker and sicker because of a lack of preventative healthcare.

"I worry that we're all looking for a way out, but we have to be realistic about it," he added. "(The REP) is in place for a reason. With improvements, they can work."

Markland hopes the REP is updated to include booster shots to prepare people better should a future variant emerge.

"Just because this one was quite mild doesn't mean the next one can't be quite severe," he said. "It would be nice to be prepared before it hits the population.

"If we reduce the pressure to (get vaccinated), we are not going to see the proper response."


Gibney said it is "important" the province removes the restrictions so that society can return to normal, but at the right time.

"If we look at the previous waves we've had, I think the highest percentage positivity with the Delta wave in December was around 15 to 16 per cent," he said. "We are running between 35 to 42 per cent positive testing, so there is still a huge amount of COVID out in the community."

"At some point relatively soon, I think it would be appropriate to release these restrictions. Now is not the time to do it."

For Gibney, hospitalizations need to decrease by at least 70 per cent before any easing of restrictions — a move he believes would occur by the end of March.

"In most other countries where they've had this, the wave has fallen pretty quickly. The number of people in hospital has dropped quite rapidly," Gibney said. "But we risk having a long tail to this fifth wave if we let everything go too fast."

When the time comes to scrap restrictions, Gibney hopes the province sets realistic expectations of what a post-fifth wave world may look like.

"When we remove the restrictions," he said, "this isn't the end of COVID, and there is a possibility at some point in the future that something as transmissible as Omicron and nasty as Delta could along that might require the imposition of public health measures again.

"I think the sense that this is over, we are never going to do this again, would be an unfortunate message at a time when we don't know that is the case. We hope that is the case but recognizing the way this virus behaves, that's not necessarily the case."

Steve Buick, press secretary to Health Minister Jason Copping, said in a statement to CTV News Edmonton, that details on the plan to begin lifting restrictions will come early this week.

"The purpose of restrictions has been clear from the start of the pandemic: to protect our healthcare system from being overwhelmed," Buick said. "We are deeply grateful to our health care workers who are strained after two years of the pandemic.

"The good news is that the current wave is passing without overwhelming the health system, and it's time to move forward," he added. Top Stories

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