Watch this page throughout the day for updates on COVID-19 in Edmonton
With COVID-19 news changing every day, we have created this file to keep you up-to-date on all the latest stories and information in and around Edmonton.
As Alberta continues to navigate the unpredictable waves of COVID-19, we’re looking to hear your stories on this evolving situation.
Edmonton Oiler forward Devin Shore has been placed on COVID protocol and will not play in tonight’s game against the Columbus Bluejackets.
#Oilers forward Devin Shore has been placed in COVID protocol.
The Calgary Flames were supposed to open a five-game homestand Thursday at the Saddledome.
Instead, the players, coaches and staff continue to isolate at home, their schedule paused due to the largest COVID-19 outbreak in the NHL this season.
The team announced three more cases Thursday, bringing the total to 30. The latest to be added to the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol are forward Dillon Dube, defenceman Oliver Kylington and one member of the support staff. A grand total of 18 players have tested positive, leaving just five on the active roster.
#Flames Roster Update: Dillon Dube, Oliver Kylington and 1 member of the support staff have entered the NHL’s COVID-19 Protocol.
The Canadian Press
Canada has recorded its 30,000th COVID-19 death since the pandemic began in early 2020, surpassing a grim milestone just as the country braces for the potential fallout of surging infections driven by the Omicron variant.
Ontario reported nine more COVID-19 deaths Thursday morning, pushing Canada’s total to just over 30,000 as Ottawa and some provinces tightened public health measures to stave off a more transmissible virus.
It took Canada nine months to reach 10,000 COVID-19 deaths last November, but the toll doubled to 20,000 just two months later in January 2021 — a leap that occurred before enough vaccines had been administered to have an impact. The country surpassed 25,000 COVID-19 deaths in May.
Since then, experts say vaccines have significantly reduced the number of people dying from the virus daily, with some estimates suggesting between 75 and 90 per cent fewer deaths in each age group, compared to what would normally be expected.
Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said the arrival of vaccines a year ago — Canada administered its first jabs on Dec. 14, 2020 — resulted in a “dramatic shift” in the country’s COVID-19 epidemiology, with a particular drop in mortality rates.
The trajectory “dropped dramatically after the vaccines came into effect, and continues to be at a sustained at a lower level,” she said in a news conference Monday.
Dr. Tara Moriarty, a researcher at the University of Toronto, estimates vaccines “likely saved more than 476,000 lives in Canada to date.”
Queen Elizabeth has canceled a pre-Christmas lunch with her family as a precaution while cases of COVID-19 soar in Britain, a Buckingham Palace source said.
“The decision is a precautionary one as it is felt to put too many people’s Christmas arrangements at risk if it went ahead.
“While there is regret that it is canceled, there is a belief it is the right thing to do for all.”
England’s chief medical officer warned people on Wednesday not to mix with others unless they have to in the run-up to Christmas after Britain recorded its most daily coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic.
Britain’s 95-year-old monarch spent the majority of the pandemic at Windsor Castle to the west of London. Her husband Prince Philip died in April this year after more than seven decades of marriage.
The surge of COVID cases prompted France on Thursday to impose travel restrictions on travelers from Britain, and several European countries also strengthened border controls on visitors from other EU states.
Tyler Dawson, National Post
As the COVID-19 pandemic crawls towards the two-year mark Canadians have reached the “outer limits” of what further public-health restrictions they’re willing to accept, Alberta Premier Jason Kenney told the National Post on Wednesday.
“A complex free society is not a machine that the government can easily micromanage. We have to account for things like human volition and freedom in the stringency of our measures,” Kenney said. “If anything, and I think this was a consensus amongst premiers with whom I spoke last night, we’re kind of at the population’s outer limits after 21 months.”
The comments, made in a meeting with the Post’s editorial board, came shortly after Kenney announced Alberta’s COVID-19 restrictions would slacken prior to the Christmas holidays, and as provinces — and the federal government — scramble to update their pandemic responses in the face of the Omicron variant, with measures such as travel advisories and more widespread use of rapid testing.
In Alberta, the unvaccinated are now permitted to hold social gatherings, and more than two households, with a maximum of 10 adults — though no limits on those under 18 — are now allowed to get together.
That announcement, made early Wednesday in Alberta, had been rescheduled from Tuesday, when Kenney had to cancel an event because of an urgent meeting with the other premiers, and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, over the countrywide response to the Omicron variant.
Kenney has said in recent days that Alberta’s public-health measures — which until Wednesday were among the strictest in the entire country — were increasingly out of step with how Albertans were behaving, and that “widespread non-compliance” was harming the credibility of public-health measures. Many Albertans, Kenney said, “have just tuned us out.”
Alberta has also ramped up distribution of rapid test kits for Albertans to use over the holidays; more than 500,000 kits of five will be available at pharmacies and Alberta Health Services sites across the province. Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said during a Wednesday briefing that Alberta faces “a very real risk of experiencing a significant fifth wave with this new variant.”
On the other side of the country, federal officials, who have already imposed travel restrictions on foreign nationals from a number of African nations, held a press briefing to request that Canadians avoid non-essential travel. Omicron, the variant first detected in South Africa, is already well-established within Canada, with community spread, and the Liberals declined to go to further extremes, such as banning the entry of foreign nationals to Canada.
Kevin Martin, Calgary
A Lethbridge dad who fed his children “vaccine misinformation” has lost his battle to prevent them from getting shots.
In a written ruling posted Wednesday, Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Johnna Kubik sided with the two children’s mother and said she could go ahead and get them inoculated.
The parents had joint decision-making for their kids, including decisions on their medical health, as part of their divorce agreement.
Kubik noted that until the pandemic both had ensured their children received all childhood immunizations and annual flu vaccinations.
“Unfortunately, their parents disagree as to whether they should be vaccinated against COVID-19,” she said.
“Their father opposes their vaccination as he is concerned that the risk associated with the vaccine outweighs the risk to the children should they contract COVID-19.”
Kubik said the evidence showed the father provided inaccurate information to his kids about the risks of getting immunized.
“These materials illustrate the father’s engagement with vaccine misinformation. The father’s affidavit references the vaccine as experimental,” she said.
The judge also noted the dad’s lawyer referred to the “purported pandemic,” and raised a lack of debate in the Alberta legislature and Parliament to establish the existence of the pandemic.
“Much of this material is refuted by evidence attached to the mother’s filed materials, including publications of both the governments of Canada and Alberta relating to the vaccine, its approval, its side-effects, and its efficacy,” Kubik said.
Dylan Short, Calgary
Three entertainment businesses in Banff have been ordered to partially close after Alberta Health Services inspectors found people to be inside without proper masking.
High Rollers, Melissa’s Missteak Restaurant and Dancing Sasquatch were all ordered to close indoor dining and beverage services after 11 p.m. and to stop serving liquor after 10 p.m. until they submit a written plan on how they will enforce public health measures in effect in Alberta and commit to enforcing those plans. High Rollers is also restricted from allowing adult group activities, including bowling.
Orders of partial closures posted on the AHS website show health inspectors observed “very little to no masking” of people as they moved around within each establishment. The businesses were also cited for having customers not remain seated while eating and being unmasked, and for not strongly enforcing the province’s vaccine passport program.
Alberta’s Restrictions Exemption Program allows non-essential businesses to open to full capacity if all customers provide proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a valid negative test.
The orders are all dated Dec. 14.
The Canadian Press
Ever since the Omicron variant surfaced in Canada, Carissa Ainslie has been constantly on the hunt for the latest COVID-19 updates.
“It’s definitely dampened my spirit,” the downtown Toronto resident said.
Ainslie said the pandemic has felt “bleak,” but the new variant has only made things “bleaker” and brought on a sense of hopelessness.
“Every morning, (I’m) checking those COVID numbers and just kind of feeling frustrated,” she said.
Experts say pandemic fatigue is being widely felt in Canada and are urging people to keep their guard up as cases of the highly transmissible Omicron variant rise. They suggest politicians and public health figures include positive elements in their messaging to keep residents engaged in the fight against the virus.
David Dozois, a psychology professor at the University of Western Ontario, said some people have become “desensitized” to COVID-19, and as a result, are experiencing “caution fatigue.”
Alberta’s travel and tourism industry is reeling from the federal government’s new non-essential travel advisory, calling for more predictability on COVID-19 restrictions and supports for businesses.
The federal government on Wednesday warned Canadians against all non-essential travel outside the country amid spread of the Omicron variant. The advisory stops short of a mandatory restriction, but ministers hinted at the possibility of more measures on the way. Representatives in the travel industry said people have found the changing travel requirements confusing and want greater confirmation and predictability.
Darren Reeder, executive director of Tourism Industry Association of Alberta (TIAA), said the government’s new four-week advisory is likely to create more uncertainty for travellers during one of the busiest travel periods of the year.
“The knock-down effect of this decision will likely have a debilitating impact on the many tourism businesses that remain at the financial brink as we close out a very challenging 2021,” Reeder said in an emailed statement. “Overall, the tourism industry remains a long way off from recovering to pre-COVID-19 levels.”
Alberta Health Services (AHS) has placed about 1,650 full and part-time employees on unpaid leave as its vaccine mandate came into effect on Monday.
However, Kerry Williamson, AHS spokesperson, said temporary and targeted rapid COVID-19 testing has been implemented at 19 work locations and nine Emergency Medical Services locations across Alberta with 175 staff members eligible for the testing option.
The targeted testing allows non-fully vaccinated AHS employees to work at healthcare facilities where there has been low vaccine uptake.
“It is important to note that an affected work location is only the area of a site where there was a risk of service disruption, not the entire site,” said Williamson. “These numbers will continue to fluctuate as additional mitigation strategies are put into place.”
Those 1,650 employees who are not fully vaccinated have turned down the testing option and will be placed on unpaid leave, he added.
The government now advises against all non-essential international travel in the face of the rapidly spreading Omicron variant of COVID-19.
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos made the announcement Wednesday, following a Tuesday evening meeting between premiers and the prime minister. The health minister says the highly transmissible variant is now spreading in Canadian communities, and just about anywhere else in the world.
Ottawa agreed to send shipments of booster doses and rapid tests to provinces and territories to quickly ramp up vaccination campaigns to combat the virus at home.
Alberta will allow more than two families to gather for Christmas and is no longer placing additional gathering restrictions on people who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 as the Omicron variant of the virus continues to spread.
Premier Jason Kenney said Wednesday that the limit of 10 adults per indoor gathering total will remain but there will no longer be limits on the number of households that can be included. He said the previous rules that prevented unvaccinated Albertans from gathering were leading to “widespread non-compliance” so those are being eliminated.
“What we are doing today means Alberta continues to have the most strict restrictions on indoor socializing in Canada. Most provinces have limits of about 20-25 people. We have a limit of 10 adults,” Kenney said.
“… But at the same time, we have to be mindful after 21 months of this, of the willingness of the public to actually comply with the rules. Rules on paper that are not observed by the public are meaningless and pointless and just undermine confidence in the public health measures.”
The changes come as the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus is spreading. Ten Omicron cases were reported in Alberta on Wednesday and 60 cases in total have been confirmed in the province.
Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Wednesday that although early evidence is suggesting the variant may be less likely to cause severe outcomes, the province needs to be “extremely cautious as we learn more.”
“With a much larger number of people being infected much more quickly, the overall impact on ICUs is still rising in other parts of the world where Omicron is spreading fast,” she said, adding that there is a risk of a dangerous fifth wave of the virus based on the volume of cases that could develop.
Alberta added 456 more COVID-19 cases and three deaths to its total on Wednesday.
Provincial data shows there are 4,082 active cases in the province. There are 392 people in hospital including 71 in intensive care.
Britain’s Omicron wave may be no worse than a flu pandemic, an expert has said, as the first major study into the new variant suggests it is less severe than delta.
The first real-world study looking at 78,000 Omicron cases in South Africa found the risk of hospitalisation is 29 per cent lower compared to the Wuhan strain, and 23 per cent lower than delta, with vaccines holding up well.
Far fewer people have also needed intensive care from Omicron, with just five per cent of cases admitted to ICU compared to 22 per cent of delta patients, the study shows.
Professor Robert Dingwall, a government COVID advisor, from Nottingham Trent University, said it was clear from the South African data that panic was unjustified. Speaking in a personal capacity, Prof Dingwall said: “The Omicron situation seems to be increasingly absurd. There is obviously a lot of snobbery about South African science and medicine but their top people are as good as any you would find in a more universally developed country.
“They clearly don’t feel that the elite panic over here is justified, even allowing for the demographic differences in vulnerability — which are probably more than cancelled by the higher vaccination rate. “My gut feeling is that Omicron is very much like the sort of flu pandemic we planned for — a lot of sickness absence from work in a short period, which will create difficulties for public services and economic activity, but not of such a severity as to be a big problem for the NHS and the funeral business.”
Re. “Children should no longer be burdened with our COVID fears,” David Staples, Dec. 10
Mark Twain spoke about lies, damn lies and statistics. In his commentary last Friday, Staples thought it would be a good idea to remove all COVID restrictions for children. He uses statistics from Sweden to make his point, but I happen to know Sweden went through some terrible hardships as a result of COVID.
By the way, why Sweden? We know very little about it and it is about 7,200 km away from Alberta. Why not use countries that are closer to compare like the United States, Mexico or even Iceland? Was Sweden the only country he could find that went along with his ideas?
I’ll throw in one more stat, though commentators have made us very leery of this. Alberta has almost 77 per cent of its population fully vaccinated, Sweden 70 per cent.
Finally, Staples and his friends want to “demand” that Mr. Kenney remove all restrictions regarding children. I believe that these types of frivolous and uninformed demands got us in some trouble during this pandemic. Let us allow public health officials to steer us in the right direction.
Patrick Collins, St. Albert
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Lauren Boothby, Ashley Joannou
Twenty Omicron cases were reported in Alberta on Tuesday as Canada’s premiers met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau about this variant and potential travel restrictions.
Relaxed COVID-19 rules for Alberta ahead of Christmas were expected to be announced at a Tuesday news conference with Premier Jason Kenney, Health Minister Jason Copping and chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw. But the event was cancelled so Kenney could attend Trudeau’s call where health guidelines, protecting health-care systems, and a potential surge in cases over the holidays, was discussed.
“The prime minister consulted premiers on additional border and travel measures that could help slow community spreading,” reads a meeting summary released by Trudeau’s office.
“The prime minister recognized … this new surge in cases would be particularly difficult for families and communities given the time of year. As we enter the holiday season, first ministers reiterated their commitment to saving lives and protecting Canadians by limiting the spread of COVID-19 as much as possible.”
Instead of the media update, Hinshaw announced the significant jump in Omicron cases on her Twitter account Tuesday evening — 50 cases total have been confirmed in Alberta.
“We are continuing to closely monitor the spread of this emerging variant and will update Albertans as we learn more,” she wrote.
Alberta added 250 more COVID-19 cases and eight deaths to its total on Tuesday.
Provincial data shows there was a small dip in active cases to 4,016, with 1,198 and 1,691 of these in Edmonton and Calgary health zones, respectively. Hospitalizations crept up slightly to 366 including 70 patients in ICU.
Ryan Tumilty, National Post
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland offered few new economic measures in the Liberals’ fiscal update Tuesday, portraying the Canadian economy instead as well on the way to a post-pandemic recovery.
Freeland delivered her speech in Parliament on Tuesday amid growing concerns about the Omicron variant of COVID-19, which appears to be spreading across the country. She said the government was budgeting $1.7 billion to buy more rapid tests and ship them out across the country to provinces.
Freeland said that funding will buy 180 million tests and provinces should use the ones they have in storage now.
“There is not a shortage of rapid tests today in Canada, and we have a lot more coming. I really urge Canadians, use rapid tests, use boosters, wear your masks.”
Freeland herself used rapid tests on Tuesday after two of her staff tested positive for COVID-19. She said she has since tested negative, but as a precaution gave the fiscal update virtually rather than appearing in person in Parliament.
Derrick Penner. National Post
COVID-19’s Omicron variant is so transmissible, by early January, it could replicate to the highest infection rates British Columbia has seen during the pandemic, according to modelling experts.
B.C. had only identified 10 Omicron cases as of Friday, but a “skyrocketing rate of increase” in Ontario, the United Kingdom, Denmark and other European countries “does not portend well,” said UBC modelling expert Sarah Otto, just as socialization-starved British Columbians contemplate holiday gatherings.
In the U.K., the country recorded its first death from the variant Monday and Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised booster vaccines to everyone over 18 by the end of December in the face of a “tidal wave of Omicron coming.”
“If I plug those numbers in for B.C., it predicts more cases than we’ve ever seen by early January and hospitalization rates a couple of weeks thereafter hitting their peak,” said Otto, a professor in zoology and member of the independent COVID modelling group.
“Everybody should be racing out to get a vaccine (and) booster dose,” Otto said. “For the province, I hope that they ramp up availability of the boosters because that’s the one thing we can do now to prevent a January surge.”
Sharon Kirkey, National Post
What did the study involve?
The analysis by Discovery Health, South Africa’s largest private health insurance administrator, was based on more than 211,000 positive COVID-19 test results, 41 per cent from adults who had received two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. About 78,000 of those test results were attributed to Omicron infections between Nov. 15 and Dec. 7, when the variant was circulating.
The researchers looked at the Pfizer vaccines’ real-world effectiveness against hospital admission from Omicron infection and the risk of reinfection for people previously infected with SARS-CoV-2.
What do the early findings show?
People infected with Omicron appear less likely to develop severe disease than adults infected during the first wave of COVID in South Africa. After adjusting for age, sex, underlying health conditions and vaccine status, the risk of hospital admission was 29 per cent lower for adults.
The drop in severity is encouraging and suggests an “apparent de-linking” of infections with hospitalizations, according to a slide presentation presented at Tuesday morning’s press briefing. While infections rose rapidly during the first three weeks of South Africa’s Omicron wave, hospital admissions and deaths are not increasing as rapidly.
“At this early point, we believe there is hope that the severity is lower,” said Dr. Ryan Noach, CEO of Discovery Health. However, “we should not be lulled into any type of complacency.”
Pfizer Inc on Tuesday said final analysis of its antiviral COVID-19 pill still showed near 90% efficacy in preventing hospitalizations and deaths in high-risk patients, and recent lab data suggests the drug retains its effectiveness against the fast spreading Omicron variant of the coronavirus.
The U.S. drugmaker last month said the oral medicine was around 89% effective in preventing hospitalizations or deaths when compared to placebo, based on interim results in around 1,200 people. The data disclosed on Tuesday includes an additional 1,000 people.
Nobody in the trial who received the Pfizer treatment died, compared with 12 deaths among placebo recipients.The Pfizer pills are taken with the older antiviral ritonavir every 12 hours for five days beginning shortly after onset of symptoms. If authorized, the treatment will be sold as Paxlovid.“It’s a stunning outcome,” Pfizer Chief Scientific Officer Mikael Dolsten said in an interview.
“We’re talking about a staggering number of lives saved and hospitalizations prevented. And of course, if you deploy this quickly after infection, we are likely to reduce transmission dramatically,” Dolsten said.
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