Alberta, Ottawa making plans to use armed forces to move COVID-19 patients to other provinces if need be

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Alberta is working with Ottawa on a plan for armed forces to help relocate COVID-19 patients to hospitals outside of the province if necessary.

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Speaking at an afternoon press conference Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney said the arrangements were precautionary.

“We do not currently need the support, and we do not have an imminent need for it, but it’s prudent to plan for things in case we reach a worst case scenario,” Kenney said.

Earlier in the day, Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver asked the federal government for air ambulances as well as additional critical care hospital staff, particularly intensive care unit registered nurses and respiratory therapists.  

McIver faced immediate criticism for waiting to request federal help until after Monday’s election.

NDP health critic David Shepherd said he hopes the federal government can provide the resources Albertans need to relieve some pressure on the hospitals, but that Albertans should be “appalled” that McIver didn’t ask for help sooner.

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“Alberta’s frontline healthcare workers need all the help they can get as they struggle with the emergency created by the UCP’s failure to act for months while this crisis escalated,” he said in a statement Tuesday afternoon.

“Once again, the UCP is focused on politics instead of the terrible price that Albertans are paying right now, with record ICU admissions and thousands of life-saving surgeries cancelled. It’s disgustingly cynical.”

COVID-19 hospitalizations, which hit a record high for the third consecutive day Tuesday, have been threatening to collapse the province’s healthcare system amid the fourth wave of the pandemic. Intensive care units have been especially hit hard, and Alberta Health Services has responded by opening more than 150 surge spaces.

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Provincewide intensive care unit capacity is currently at 87 per cent, and would be at 169 per cent if not for the surge spaces.

The province reported 1,519 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, and a total of 20,917 active cases. Currently, 996 Albertans are in hospital with the virus including 222 in the ICU.

Four Alberta health-care unions previously urged the province to call in the military to help the overwhelmed hospital system.

Third doses expanded

Meanwhile, the province expanded the list of severely immunocompromised Albertans who can receive a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at least eight weeks after getting a second one.

The newly-eligible include individuals in active cancer treatment, those with chronic kidney disease receiving regular dialysis, and people on certain medications for autoimmune diseases.

The move brings Alberta in line with recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

Alberta has seen a sharp uptick in COVID-19 vaccinations since announcing its vaccine passport last Wednesday. Seventy-two hours afterwards, the province had administered 78,000 doses, Kenney said.

More than 23,000 vaccines were administered Monday.

As of Tuesday, 72.8 per cent of Albertans 12 and older had gotten two doses while 81.4 per cent of eligible Albertans had received at least one.

More to come…

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