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Canadians hitting 'outer limits' of what public-health restrictions they'll accept, Kenney says

National Post logo National Post 2021-12-15 Tyler Dawson
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has said recently that Alberta's strict public-health measures were increasingly out of step with how Albertans were behaving. © Jim Wells/Postmedia/File Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has said recently that Alberta's strict public-health measures were increasingly out of step with how Albertans were behaving.

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.

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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.

Other governments, too, have moved to modify their responses to COVID-19. In Atlantic Canada, New Brunswick has announced a testing blitz for schoolchildren, while Nova Scotia, citing rising COVID-19 case counts, will send students on Christmas break Friday, instead of next Tuesday.

In Ontario, the government announced Wednesday it would begin distributing rapid test kits to 100 of the busiest LCBOs, the provincially owned liquor store chain, and give them away at multiple other high-traffic locations such as malls. The province also expanded eligibility for booster shots to all Ontarians over 18 starting Monday and capped venues that hold more than 1,000 people to 50 per cent; this includes sports stadiums.

“It’s all hands on deck, this is a call to arms,” said Premier Doug Ford at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. “We’re going to continue focusing on rapid tests and booster shots … that’s the way out of it, that’s clear as day.”

Kenney said he believes, should the hospital system come under strain once again, Albertans will step up and that it will be easier to get people on board if measures are relaxed now, when cases and hospitalizations are low.

“When we’ve seen the public step up with a behaviour that reduces transmission, it’s been through people making that decision voluntarily,” Kenney said. “I think people will correct their behaviour in the future if they see that our health care system is once again under serious stress.”

• Email: tdawson@postmedia.com | Twitter:

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