Alberta premier Jason Kenney said Thursday he hopes that COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted in March, provided hospitalizations and other factors are trending in the right direction. (Photo by Government of Alberta)

Alberta premier Jason Kenney said Thursday he hopes that COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted in March, provided hospitalizations and other factors are trending in the right direction. (Photo by Government of Alberta)

Now not the right time to life restrictions, says Kenney

Premier Jason Kenney was optimistic on Thursday on the possibility of removing COVID-19 restrictions in the near future.

In a COVID-19 press conference, Kenney said he understands the frustrations of Albertans with current restrictions, but with the current pressure on hospitals because of COVID-19, it simply isn’t the right time.

“I’m one of the people that wants to see an end to the Restrictions Exemption Program and as quickly as possible,” Kenney said.

“That’s not right now. We are continuing to see upward movement in our in-patient hospital beds, hospitalization pressure from COVID-19. We’re at in fact the highest point in the two years, in terms of people in hospital with COVID.

“While there is some good news, that can be encouraging for all of us, now is not the right time to be relaxing measures, when hospitals are under so much pressure.

“I very much hope we can move towards widespread relaxation of public health measures, including the proof of vaccination program in the foreseeable future, once we start to see the pressure on hospitals trend down.”

Kenney noted that when he introduced the Restrictions Exemption Program in September, he didn’t anticipate it going beyond March. He said he’s hopeful the province will be able to lift public health measures before that.

“I did say when we brought the proof of vaccination program in back in September, that I did not foresee it going past the first quarter of 2022, that would be the end of March,” Kenney said.

“I am hopeful, based on trends we are beginning to see and we’ve seen elsewhere, that we’ll be able to consider lifting that and most other public health measures well before that.”

The province reported 3,218 cases Thursday, based on 9,352 tests, for a positivity rate from lab-confirmed tests of about 34.7 per cent.

Alberta also reported 14 new deaths due to the implications of COVID-19, bringing the death toll to 3,158.

The province has 44,301 active cases of the virus, with 1,469 people in hospital infected with the virus, including 106 in the ICU.

Kenney said that ICU numbers in this wave across the province have been much lower than the previous wave. He said at times during the Delta wave, there were more than 250 people in the ICU.

“Since we seem to be beginning to come down or stabilize on the ICU pressure – we are grateful to see that because of the lower severity of Omicron – a large part of is because of higher vaccination rates, we have seen much, much less impact on our intensive care units,” Kenney said.

He added that 40 per cent of people in hospital, but not in the ICU are “incidental” COVID-19 cases, meaning they were not admitted because of COVID-19 but subsequently tested positive. The province reported there are 1,469 patients with COVID-19 in hospital.

“That number has gone up in the past week or two and there is real stress on the system – particular stress to some of the large, urban emergency wards,” Kenney said.

“The good news is that the overall burden of in-patients in our 100 hospitals across the province is stable. We’ve been averaging just under 5,300 total non-ICU in-patients since the beginning of January… We’ve had a stable overall population in the system, over the past month.”

Kenney noted over the past few years in January, hospitals across the province have typically peaked near 5,600 beds being occupied.

“There is significant stress, it is not out of line with historic trends at this time of year. Although there is additional stress because of COVID protocols and there is continued need for Albertans to be cautious and careful,” he said.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw also worked to clarify quarantine measures for Albertans.

If you test positive for COVID-19 and are not fully immunized against COVID-19, you must quarantine for the full 10 days, she said. If you are fully immunized on the sixth day after a positive test, you can leave isolation but must wear a mask at all times in public. After 10 days, there are no more specific guidelines.

She added that children under the age of two are now able to get tested for COVID-19 through AHS assessment centres.

“This is a pragmatic approach since rapid tests are not licensed for use in children under the age of two,” Hinshaw said.