Protesters gather at the Foothills Hospital to oppose COVID-19 related public health measures in Calgary, Monday, Sept. 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Alberta doctors press government to strengthen restrictions as ICU admissions rocket

Alberta doctors press government to strengthen restrictions as ICU admissions rocket

CALGARY — Alberta doctors called on the government to restrict unvaccinated people from indoor public spaces on Monday, as COVID-19 intensive care admissions reached an all-time high.

Numbers released by the province show 198 Albertans with COVID-19 were receiving intensive care — surpassing the previous record of 182 admissions in May. Alberta Health Services, as of Monday morning, said the number was even higher, at 202.

Alberta Health Services also said intensive care capacity was operating at 90 per cent with surge spaces added. Without additional surge beds, capacity would be at 148 per cent.

In an open letter, 65 intensive care physicians urged the United Conservative government to take urgent action to protect the health system.

“It is our opinion that the current measures do not go nearly far enough to interrupt transmission or reduce barriers to vaccination. It is also our opinion that the current state of health-care capacity in Alberta is so dire that waiting to see the results of current, less stringent measures will result in devastating consequences,” reads the letter.

“To prevent broad restrictions like those required in earlier waves, we are calling for immediate implementation of certificates of immunity that individuals must provide to enter any indoor public spaces for the purpose of accessing anon-essential service.”

Over the weekend, the province recorded 4,740 new cases: 1,659 infections on Friday, 1,497 on Saturday and 1,584 on Sunday. Government data showed 803 Albertans were in hospital with the virus.

Alberta also continued to have the highest count of active infections in the country with 18,395.

As health-care workers across the country battle a fourth wave of the pandemic, protesters rallied against public health restrictions at various hospitals, including the Foothills Medical Centre in Calgary and the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton.

In Calgary, dozens of people crowded a street corner where staff and patients entered the facility. With signs decrying vaccine passports and claiming abuses of human rights, some asserted they were protesting on behalf of front-line staff.

Police controlled the crowd and broke up a few altercations between the anti-restriction group and counter-protesters who blasted metal music. One said they hoped the music would drown out anti-mask and anti-restriction rhetoric.

At least two people were taken away by officers.

Alberta Health Services said in a statement that it had strengthened security at the two hospitals to help patients and staff enter and exit safely. Fencing was also added around the sites.

The Calgary Police Service said it conveyed a list of expectations to protest organizers. In a statement, the force said it would not tolerate any behaviour that hindered people from entering or leaving the hospital and would have officers there to monitor — with backup available, if needed.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, Justice Minister Kaycee Madu and Alberta Health Services have been critical of hospital protests.

“While Canadians are entitled to peaceful protest, one can still question the appalling judgment of those protesting across the country today,” Kenney said in a statement.

“It is outrageous that a small minority feel it’s appropriate to protest at hospitals during the pandemic, while our health-care workers continue to tirelessly battle the global menace of COVID-19.”

The overwhelming majority of Albertans facing serious illness as a result of COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

As of Sunday, just over 79 per cent of the eligible population, those 12 and older, had received one vaccine dose, with slightly over 71 per cent fully vaccinated.

Registration also opened Monday for people who get a first or second dose of COVID-19 vaccine to claim a $100 debit card. The government earlier announced the plan to incentivize vaccine uptake.

As of Monday afternoon, government spokeswoman Lisa Glover said 3,216 people had registered for the debit cards.

“There are some early signs the incentive program may be having a positive impact but as with any new initiative, it will take some time to see the full effect on people’s choices.

The incentive applies to anyone who gets a shot between Sept. 3 and Oct. 14.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 13, 2021.

Alanna Smith, The Canadian Press

Alberta