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Alberta, Saskatchewan not planning to follow B.C., Manitoba on broad mask mandates


COVID-19 continues to affect the North American economy. (mbruxelle/Adobe Stock)
By Dean Bennett

EDMONTON — Alberta reported more than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday but, along with Saskatchewan, is not planning to follow broad mask mandates announced this week by neighbouring western provinces.

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney and Health Minister Tyler Shandro have both said that vaccinations are the best, most effective way to get the province through the pandemic. Neither has addressed the surging numbers.

Both Alberta and Saskatchewan continue to urge residents who have not done so to get the two-dose protection.

Manitoba and British Columbia are reintroducing mask requirements in indoor public spaces to try to arrest a rise in case numbers.

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Alberta reported 1,076 new cases Wednesday and had close to 8,500 active infections. Some 284 people were in hospital with COVID-19, 59 of them in intensive care. It’s the highest daily case count since mid-May.

In Edmonton, Alberta Health spokesman Steve Buick said there is no plan to pursue a rule on face coverings. He added: “Our current mask rules remain in place, including mandatory masks in health-care settings and public transit.”

In Saskatchewan, where there were 1,500 active cases and 108 people hospitalized, Health Minister Paul Merriman said provinces have the prerogative to choose what they want to do.

“But we feel right now that the vaccine is the best path through this,” he told reporters in Regina.

“Public health measures are a stopgap,” added Merriman, who stressed that the onus is on individuals to get vaccinated to protect themselves and to get the province through the pandemic.

Asked about mandatory vaccinations, he said: “You’re infringing on people’s personal rights if you’re mandating things.”

There is now a patchwork of masking and mandatory vaccination rules in both provinces for businesses, schools and events.

In Edmonton, fans over age 12 attending Oilers hockey games this fall will have to show proof of vaccination while, at this point, those attending Elks football games do not.

The Alberta Medical Association this week openly urged the province to institute mandatory vaccinations for health-care workers. Dr. Paul Boucher, the association’s president, said that while he understands the issue is polarizing, vaccination “remains our most effective tool to keep our vulnerable patients safe.”

David Shepherd, health critic for Alberta’s NDP Opposition, said not following the lead of B.C. and Manitoba is yet another example of failed leadership from a United Conservative government that is seeking to off-load controversial or unpopular decisions.

“This government is devolving the responsibility to make important public health decisions onto school boards, onto businesses, onto individuals and, indeed, causing them to have to deal with the tension, the blowback, (and) the issues that come with having to enforce this,” said Shepherd.

The rule changes in other provinces come as they address a rise in COVID cases, tied mainly to the more transmissible Delta variant.

Along with requiring masks again, including in schools, Manitoba is mandating vaccinations for front-line provincial employees who work with vulnerable populations. Workers affected included doctors, nurses, teachers and prison guards. Manitoba is still seeing a low number of new cases, but Premier Brian Pallister said precautions must be taken to prevent a spike.

B.C.’s mask rule extends to malls, grocery stores and public transit, as well as to students in Grade 4 and higher.

Also on Wednesday, the Northwest Territories, which is experiencing it’s worst outbreak of the pandemic, reinstated its mask mandate.