Alberta declared a public health emergency on Wednesday as a spate of cases pushed the health care system in the Canadian province — the heart of the country’s oil industry — to the brink.
Prime Minister Jason Kenney said the province’s intensive care units were operating at more than double their normal capacity, and modeling suggested Alberta would run out of staff to go to ICU beds within 10 days.
Alberta filed 1,609 new Covid-19 cases and 24 deaths on Wednesday, the most since January. The number of infections per capita in the past seven days was 2.5 times higher than in Canada as a whole.
The province’s vaccination campaign has lagged behind the rest of the country, with just over 60 percent fully vaccinated, compared to the national average of nearly 70 percent.
“We are faced with an emergency that requires immediate action to save lives and prevent an ongoing crisis in our health care system,” Kenney said, adding that new measures to contain the spread of the virus will come into effect on Thursday, with a second set of rules to follow on September 20.
It was a major turnaround for Kenney, who came under fire for lifting restrictions despite the increasing number of cases in July, and for taking a three-week vacation in August when the caseload rose.
On Monday, more than 60 infectious disease experts called on Kenney to re-impose restrictions. “Hospitals and ICUs across the province are under tremendous pressure and have reached a point where it is unclear whether, and for how long, we can provide safe care to Albertans,” they wrote in a letter.
Measures introduced on Thursday include proof of vaccination for access to public sites, limiting the capacity of public sites, enforcing physical distancing and requiring those who can work from home.
“The protection of life should be our number one concern,” Kenney said on Wednesday, “I believe the vast majority of Albertans understand and support this.”
Alberta is home to the fourth largest oil reserves in the world, according to government figures, after Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Iran.