A series of protests outside Alberta health care facilities prompted Premier Jason Kenney to announce on Tuesday they will be protected under the Critical Infrastructure Defence Act.
Heath care facilities will be added to the list of critical infrastructure, which includes pipelines, railways and highways.
While Canadians have the right to protest, “that cannot come at the expense of Albertans who need essential health care like cancer treatment or emergency services,” said the premier.
“People were rightly shocked to see this totally inappropriate behaviour from a vocal minority,” he said.
“Using our hospitals as a venue to attack vaccines and a reasonable public health measures only adds more stress to our already overburdened frontline workers.”
The law passed last year carries punishments for trespassing, interfering with operations and construction, and causing damage. Penalties can range from $1,000 to $25,000 in fines for individuals or up to six months in prison. Corporations face a minimum fine of $10,000 and ranging up to $200,000.
The move will provide more protection for health care staff, patients and their families, he said.
Meanwhile, the province’s health care facilities are still facing “unprecedented pressure” because of the number of unvaccinated Albertans, he said.
The province is about to launch new COVID-19 campaign, which will include pamphlets sent to each household, media, social media and billboards, to debunk myths and provide information directly to Albertans.
Kenney said vaccination rates are going up, with 83.2 per cent of eligible Albertans having received at least one dose and 74 per cent are fully vaccinated. Since the province’s $100 incentive kicked in on Sept. 3, more than 180,000 Albertans got their first shot.
Health Minister Jason Copping said the number of ICU beds will soon be boosted to 380 from the current 370, which includes 197 additional spaces created to cope with COVID, including 32 in the last seven days. He plans to permanently increase the baseline capacity to ensure the province is prepared for future COVID waves or other health emergencies.
“Our health care system is still in critical danger, and any progress we make can be wiped out if Albertans don’t continue to do the right things,” said Copping.
There are currently 318 patients in ICU, the vast majority of whom are COVID positive. This is the highest number of patients in ICU since the pandemic began. The number of patients in ICU has increased by 10 per cent in the past seven days.
Central zone is at 89 per cent capacity with the North Zone at 100 per cent capacity.
In Central zone, there are 28 ICU beds, including 16 additional spaces. The ICU at Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre (RDRHC) currently has 25 patients, including 21 COVID positive patients in ICU.
“Diversion remains in place at the site, meaning some critical care patients from rural sites within Central zone are being transferred directly to Calgary rather than RDRHC to preserve some ICU capacity within the zone,” says AHS. “In the last 24 hours, three critical care patients were transferred out of Central zone, including one directly from the ICU at RDRHC.”