It’s a reckless scheme that puts the lives of Canadian children in danger and increases the odds of a fourth COVID-19 wave sweeping through the country.
On Wednesday, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced that close contacts of Albertans who have tested positive for COVID-19 are no longer required to quarantine.
On Aug. 16, Albertans who test positive for COVID-19 won’t be required to quarantine at all. (Take a moment to let that sink in). Those with COVID-19 symptoms won’t have to get tested.
Mandatory masking requirements will be lifted, and "testing will be available for Albertans with symptoms when it is needed to help direct patient care decisions." In other words, COVID-19 tests will only be available for Albertans who need to go to the hospital or see a doctor.
The release goes on to say that "Daycares and schools will be supported with measures that would be effective for any respiratory virus."
That means that Alberta will use the same measures to protect its children from COVID-19 as they use to protect them from the common cold. This, despite the fact that children are the most vulnerable to the virus because they are not yet eligible for vaccination.
The new measures have been condemned both in and outside Alberta. Dr. Layla Asadi, an infectious diseases specialist in Edmonton, wrote on social media that "No mandatory quarantine for close contacts, no mandatory isolation after testing positive, no contact tracing, no testing for symptoms unless severely, and no masking in transit. I’m embarrassed and saddened for my province."
Dr. Irfan Dhalla, a professor at the University of Toronto medical school, wrote this: "Very surprised to see the announcement out of Alberta today. We are one country, and our fates are connected. Let’s hope elected and public health leaders from elsewhere are able to convince Alberta to reverse course."
What do Alberta’s new COVID-19 measures have to do with the rest of Canada? Why should Alberta’s reduced restrictions matter to us here in Manitoba?
It matters because there are likely many Manitobans in Alberta right now, with more planning to travel there in the coming weeks and months. There are also many Albertans currently in Manitoba, with more coming to work and visit. Now multiply that by every other province in the country.
It means that the relaxed measures in Alberta will dramatically increase the likelihood that Albertans and non-Albertans alike will be exposed to COVID-19 – the Delta variant in particular.
While those of us who are double-vaccinated are largely protected from severe illness if exposed to the virus, that is not the case for the unvaccinated, most notably children. For them, an increased chance of exposure to the virus is an increased risk of death.
It matters because the current public health orders in effect in Manitoba exempt asymptomatic children from the 14-day quarantine period if they enter Manitoba with one or more persons over 12 years of age who are all fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
It is a giant loophole that makes Manitoba children even more vulnerable. Imagine a child exposed to COVID-19 in a Calgary shopping mall on Friday, then returning to daycare in Winnipeg the following Monday. Just three days after exposure, the child may still be asymptomatic yet increasingly infectious.
It matters because the Manitoba government has reduced its own COVID-19 protective measures this summer and is committed to further reductions depending on vaccination levels and other factors. Reducing protections at a time of increased external risk is a recipe for a repeat of what happened here last fall.
Finally, it matters because reduced protective measures, combined with reduced testing, dramatically increases the odds of a new COVID-19 variant emerging in Alberta and spreading throughout Canada – perhaps a variant far more resistant to the vaccines currently available.
Dr. Dhalla is right. We are one country, and our fates are connected when it comes to COVID-19. Increased risk in one province creates increased risk in all provinces.
It’s not too late for Alberta to abandon its dangerous plan. The lives of Canadian children depend on it doing so.
» Deveryn Ross is a political commentator living in Brandon. He is the former deputy chief of staff of Manitoba government’s Executive Council.