Alberta’s premier says he is “angered and saddened” by people flouting public-health restrictions at an illegal rodeo on the weekend, as the UCP suspended the legislature session due to the rising threat of COVID-19.
Premier Jason Kenney spoke out against the two-day “No More Lockdowns Rodeo,” which took place outside Bowden — about 105 kilometres north of Calgary. The event drew thousands of people at a time when outdoor gatherings of more than 10 are in contravention of provincial rules.
Kenney told Albertans defying those restrictions to “smarten up” on social media Sunday.
“The reason we are at this critical stage of the pandemic in Alberta, with record-high daily case counts and intensive-care numbers, is precisely because too many Albertans are ignoring the rules we currently have in place,” Kenney said on Twitter and Facebook.
“If we do not begin to bend the curve, our health-care system could very well be overwhelmed in a matter of weeks.”
As of Sunday, there are 648 patients in hospital, including 155 admitted to intensive-care units — an unprecedented number of COVID-19 patients in Alberta ICUs at one time since the pandemic began.
The premier said it is “disturbing” to see large crowds gathering while many Albertans are carefully following the rules and making personal sacrifices to do their part in stopping the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“Not only are gatherings like this a threat to public health, they are a slap in the face to everybody who is observing the rules to keep themselves and their fellow Albertans safe,” said Kenney.
Not only are gatherings like this a threat to public health, they are a slap in the face to everybody who is observing the rules to keep themselves and their fellow Albertans safe. — Jason Kenney (@jkenney) May 2, 2021
Alberta Health Services said officials are aware of the rodeo and were in contact with organizers before the weekend to notify them it would breach health orders.
“AHS Legal sent a letter to the organizers indicating that the event would be illegal if it were to proceed,” AHS said in a statement.
“It is extremely concerning that people would knowingly put their fellow Albertans at risk by ignoring the restrictions, particularly with increasing cases and the subsequent pressure on our health-care system.”
RCMP told Postmedia that AHS was taking the lead on enforcement at the rodeo, though officers were present to “keep the peace.”
AHS said they are considering legal action against the organizers of the event.
Bowden is located in Red Deer County, where there are 194 active cases. About 12 per cent of the province’s active cases are in AHS’s Central zone.
Kenney said the more people who defy the rules, the longer the pandemic will last.
“I again implore Albertans to get vaccinated when it’s your turn and to follow the rules in your area. To those of you already doing this, thank you. To those who aren’t, please smarten up,” he added.
On Sunday afternoon, Alberta’s provincial government also announced it will suspend the spring sitting of the legislature for two weeks due to the surge in COVID-19 cases.
“With COVID-19 continuing to spread across Alberta, the Government has determined that having MLAs return to Edmonton from all over the province after constituency week is no longer prudent,” Government House Leader Jason Nixon said in a news release.
The provincial cabinet and legislative committees will meet virtually.
Alberta reported another 1,731 new cases of COVID-19 provincewide on Sunday, after logging a record-high 2,433 on Saturday.
There are now 22,920 active cases across the province — the highest Alberta has seen throughout the pandemic. Of the active cases, about 62 per cent are variants of concern.
Another 1,132 variant cases were detected Sunday. However, the surge in cases has overwhelmed Alberta’s ability to process new cases, forcing the province to scale back variant testing efforts.
A bulletin from Alberta Precision Laboratories issued Friday indicates that only positive cases from certain populations will be screened for more contagious variants of concern starting Saturday. The only populations that will be tested for variants are patients in hospitals or emergency rooms, health-care workers, recent international travellers and those linked to identified outbreaks.
Alberta Health Services said the move to decrease variant testing was done to ensure Albertans receive test results more quickly.
The drop-off in variant testing means Alberta will be “driving blind” when it comes to spread of the more transmissive strains, said Malgorzata Gasperowicz, a developmental biologist at the University of Calgary.
“I understand why they’re doing it, because everything is overwhelmed. If you don’t have resources, it’s a smart thing to do. If you can’t test all people, you test those in the hospitals. But it just shows that we’re overwhelmed, our resources are overwhelmed,” Gasperowicz said.
An additional three deaths were reported Sunday, bringing the province’s death toll to 2,086.
Another 23,640 doses of COVID-19 vaccine were administered by the end-of-day Saturday, which means the province has given 1,621,306 shots to eligible Albertans. This includes second doses for 300,755 Albertans.
At least 29.5 per cent of all Albertans, and 36.8 per cent of Albertans aged 16 and over, have received a first dose.
With files from Jason Herring