COVID-19 live updates: No reports of falsified vaccine records, EPS; More cases challenging vaccine mandates to come says Alberta lawyer

Watch this page throughout the day for updates on COVID-19 in Edmonton

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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.

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What’s happening now

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As Alberta continues to navigate the unpredictable waves of COVID-19, we’re looking to hear your stories on this evolving situation.

  • Have you or a loved one had a surgery rescheduled or cancelled in recent weeks?
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    Send us your stories via email at edm-feedback@postmedia.com


Sunday

Edmonton police say no reports of falsified vaccine records since vaccine mandate implemented

Anna Junker

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The Alberta government is rolling out a verification app, enabling businesses to scan proof-of-vaccination with a QR code on Tuesday, October 12, 2021. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia
The Alberta government is rolling out a verification app, enabling businesses to scan proof-of-vaccination with a QR code on Tuesday, October 12, 2021. Darren Makowichuk/Postmedia Photo by Darren Makowichuk /DARREN MAKOWICHUK/Postmedia

Nearly three months into Alberta’s restriction exemption program, Edmonton police say no reports of falsified vaccine records have been made.

The program, which requires proof of doubled-dose of vaccination, a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours, or a medical exemption for patrons 12 and over was implemented on Sept. 20, beginning with a paper copy of vaccine record. On Nov. 15, the province made it so only a paper or digital copy of a vaccine record with a QR code was acceptable.

In a statement, Edmonton police spokeswoman Carolin Maran said the restrictions exemption program is part of a public health order, and complaints, follow-ups and enforcement are conducted by public health inspectors.

“The only time the EPS directly responds is if there’s imminent risk to public safety or if the inspectors require our assistance due to safety concerns,” police said. “Since the REP was implemented, EPS assistance has not been requested to date.”

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Sunday

Alberta employment lawyer believes more cases challenging vaccine mandates to come

Anna Junker

Edmonton Law Courts.
Edmonton Law Courts. Photo by Larry Wong /Postmedia, file

An Alberta-based labour and employment lawyer expects cases challenging COVID-19 vaccine mandates to increase as Albertans get back to work, but whether they are successful remains to be seen.

Frank Molnar, of Field Law, said the country is at the early stages of case law regarding vaccine mandates, with three arbitration-decisions currently out of Ontario. But, he believes there will “absolutely” be more cases brought forward, and in a variety of forms.

“I think you’re gonna see grievances under collective agreements. Probably the first ones will be policy grievances,” he said.

“You might see some individual grievances. You may see some individuals suing for wrongful dismissal that were terminated because they did not comply with the policy.”

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There may also be cases of “constructive dismissal,” where an individual could argue they never agreed to a policy and the employer is “forcing” it on them, Molnar said.

“I expect that we’ll see some decisions dealing with these claims down the road,” Molnar said. “It takes a long time for these matters to go to the court, so I expect there will be some time before we get some wrongful dismissal or constructive dismissal cases that have been decided.”

He noted there have not been any human rights decisions yet over mandatory vaccines. However, there have been complaint dismissals over mandatory face mask use, which has provided some guidance.

“There were retail environments where individuals have refused to wear a mask and they filed a human rights complaint, and all of those complaints have been dismissed,” Molnar said.

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“It doesn’t mean that ultimately, someone could not file a successful human rights complaint. It’s just that the ones that were filed just didn’t meet the test.”

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Saturday

Three units at Grey Nuns Community Hosptial currently on Outbreak

The Grey Nuns Hospital in Edmonton.
The Grey Nuns Hospital in Edmonton. Photo by Greg Southam /Postmedia

There are three units currently declaring COVID-19 outbreaks at Grey Nuns Community Hospital

An outbreak was declared on Nov. 29, on one acute care inpatient unit. To date, one indivicual has tested positive for COVID-19.

In another unit, an outbreak was also declared on Nov. 29 in an acute care inpatient unit. To date, five individuals have tested positive for COVID-19. One death is associated with this outbreak.

On Nov. 30 another unit declared an outbreak on one acute care inpatient unit. To date, one individual has tested positive for COVID-19.

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You can find a list of all AHS and Covenant Health acute care facilities experiencing outbreaks on the Alberta Health Services website .


Friday

Potential relaxation of some COVID-19 rules and more rapid tests coming Tuesday: Kenney

Ashley Joannou, Hamdi Issawi

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney. Photo by Jim Wells/Postmedia

Details on potentially relaxing COVID-19 restrictions ahead of Christmas, as well as plans to increase the number of rapid testing kits available to Albertans, will be announced Tuesday, Premier Jason Kenney said Friday.

The province’s current state of public health emergency is slated to lapse on Tuesday, and Kenney said that’s why the government is looking at “some modest, common-sense relaxation of measures for Christmas holidays.”

Kenney said his personal Christmas plans wouldn’t be possible under the current plans, which limit gatherings to 10 people from two families if everyone is vaccinated.

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“I’ll be gathering with three family members. We’re all fully vaccinated, come from three households, only four people, but we wouldn’t be able to do that Christmas based on the current rules,” he said.

On Friday, Alberta reported 287 new cases of COVID-19, and a total of 4,059 active cases — 35 fewer cases since Thursday. However, four more cases of the Omicron variant have been identified, three in the Calgary Zone and one in the Edmonton Zone, for a total of 23 cases in the province.

As of Thursday, Alberta Health Services (AHS) said in a press release, about 1,013 contact tracers and case investigators as well as 322 casual staff are working to notify close contacts of those who either test positive for the new variant or are suspected to have it.

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Contact tracers will also notify close contacts of positive cases who have recently travelled outside of Canada and the U.S., AHS added.

The health authority recommends that close contacts of these cases get tested if they experience symptoms, and advises those who aren’t fully vaccinated to isolate for at least 14 days after their last contact with a positive Omicron case or international traveler.

Alberta also reported 367 people hospitalized with the disease, one less since Thursday, and 71 patients in intensive care, one more since Thursday.

Also coming Tuesday is a plan to make more rapid testing kits available to the general public, Kenney said.

After already distributing “several hundred thousand kits” to parents in schools where there have been outbreaks, Kenney said this announcement will address the general public.

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“One of the earlier challenges that we had is that many of these kits were approved by Health Canada only on the condition that they be used for people who are symptomatic,” he said.

“But we have received, from the federal government, the green light to allow for broader distribution and use.”

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Letter of the day

Vials with Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine labels are seen in this illustration picture taken March 19, 2021.
Vials with Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine labels are seen in this illustration picture taken March 19, 2021. Photo by Dado Ruvic /REUTERS

Vaccine-maker not an unbiased source

Considering that pharmaceutical manufacturing giant Pfizer is obviously profiting handsomely from COVID vaccine sales to date, their unusually hasty and virtually overnight announcement that a “booster” vaccine they manufacture has been found to be effective against the still-emerging Omicron variant hardly evokes surprise. In fact, the absence of such an announcement would be have been more likely to render me startled!

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With that being the case, my preference would be to hear an arguably unbiased assessment of the purported vaccine effectiveness from a verified independent team of expert medical researchers — none of whom is on Pfizer’s payroll, at a future point in time when somewhat more is known about this variant than is presently the case.

As welcome a message as it is, in my view Pfizer’s touted “announcement” presently amounts to little more than an attempt at commercial advertising by way of press release.

M.F. Charles, Edmonton 


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Friday

Calgary’s Cancer Centre 90 per cent complete despite COVID-19 outbreak, supply chain issues

Dylan Short

Premier Jason Kenney visits the Calgary Cancer Centre with Infrastructure minister Prasad Panda on his right on Friday, December 10, 2021. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia
Premier Jason Kenney visits the Calgary Cancer Centre with Infrastructure minister Prasad Panda on his right on Friday, December 10, 2021. Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia Photo by Azin Ghaffari /Azin Ghaffari/Postmedia

Construction on the Calgary Cancer Centre is now 90 per cent complete despite the worksite facing COVID-19 and global supply chain issues over the past year, government officials announced Friday.

Premier Jason Kenney made the announcement from the construction site alongside Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda and Health Minister Jason Copping. The centre is scheduled to be completed by next fall and is expected to finish on time and on budget. However, Panda noted there continue to be issues with supply chains around the world and cautioned that could still cause delays in the project.

“In spite of COVID-19, our dedicated workforce has persevered and this project continues to be on schedule and on budget,” said Panda. “This is such an incredible accomplishment given the challenges that the construction sector has had to deal with.”

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The worksite was hit with a COVID-19 outbreak in May when there were 101 reported cases linked to the site. Alberta Health Services representatives said at the time that the project was exempt from a closure protocol that would have otherwise closed the site for a minimum of 10 days.

AHS and Occupational Health and Safety workers assessed the site as it remained open.

On Friday, Kenney boasted that Alberta was one of the only provinces in the country to keep construction going throughout the pandemic, contributing to the $1.4-billion construction project remaining on budget and on time.

“Through the pandemic, we kept building the province and doing so safely. I want to thank PCL and their subcontractors for having done that,” said Kenney. “At the peak, they’ve had as many as 1,600 workers on site, and right now, on any given day, they have between 900 and 1,000. So this is one of the largest builds in the province’s history in terms of health care.”

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Friday

What Canadian health officials know so far about the Omicron variant of COVID-19

The Canadian Press

The new variant identified as B.1.1.529 has been declared a variant of concern by the World Health Organization and assigned the name Omicron.
The new variant identified as B.1.1.529 has been declared a variant of concern by the World Health Organization and assigned the name Omicron. Getty Images

New federal modelling suggests the Omicron variant could propel an enormous spike in COVID-19 cases over the next few months. But there’s still a lot scientists need to learn about the latest mutation. Here’s what Canadian public health officials know about the variant so far:

Prevalence

— The Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to predominate in Canada and globally, but spread of the Omicron variant has increased. While most of Canada’s Omicron cases are linked to recent travel, federal public health officials say there is now evidence that community transmission is taking place in some areas.

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Transmissibility

— Omicron has potential to spread more quickly than Delta, which was already highly transmissible.

— In South Africa, cases have risen much quicker with Omicron than they did in previous waves.

— Greater transmissibility or reduced protection from prior infection or vaccination could drive resurgence.

Severity

— It’s not currently known whether Omicron carries a higher or lower risk of severe illness or death.

— Some of the current COVID-19 treatments may be less effective against Omicron than against other variants.

— Larger numbers of cases could impact health-care capacity. If it’s assumed Omicron is three times more transmissible than Delta and becomes the dominant strain, the latest modelling suggests the number of daily cases in Canada could explode to 26,600 by mid-January from about 3,300 currently.

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Immunity

— The effectiveness of current vaccines and their impact on Omicron is under investigation. There may be decreased protection against infection, but some level of protection against severe disease is likely to remain.

— Omicron may be able to escape immunity gained from prior infection.

— Omicron cases have been detected in both vaccinated and unvaccinated people.

(Source: Public Health Agency of Canada)


Friday

Omicron throws a new loop in travel plans amid pent-up demand

Elizabeth Payne, National Post

Dale, left, and Gerry Ashton are anxious to get back to travelling the world.
Dale, left, and Gerry Ashton are anxious to get back to travelling the world. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

When Dale and Gerry Ashton thought about retirement, they thought about travelling. But the COVID-19 pandemic had other ideas.

With borders closed and communities locked down, the Orléans couple postponed plans for a “bucket list” trip to South Africa, which had originally been scheduled for November 2020. They also pushed back their retirement plans as the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on through 2020 and 2021. Without travel, retiring didn’t make as much sense to Gerry, a nurse, and Dale, a government worker.

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This year, both are finally retired and anxious to start travelling.

The Omicron variant, identified last month in South Africa, has thrown a new curve in those plans with Canada’s health minister warning people Friday to strongly consider international travel plans.

Jean-Yves Duclos warned that with the spread of the Omicron variant around the world, international travel is increasingly risky and unstable and people should expect delays and hassles.

Still the Ashtons are taking the long view.

They had rescheduled that trip to South Africa to a year from now. Dale now says he is less optimistic that will happen, given that southern Africa is the epicentre of the new variant and vaccination rates remain low across the African continent and elsewhere in the world. If not next year, maybe the year after, he says.

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Gerry Ashton always expected the pandemic to last a number of years. Dale says he was more optimistic, but they both understand that vaccine equity is needed around the world if things are going to return to some semblance of normal.

“This virus is not something you can isolate to a certain country. If you don’t vaccinate the world, you don’t end the pandemic,” Dale said.

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Friday

COVID-19 resurgence forecast for Canada, worse if Omicron replaces Delta: Tam

The Canadian Press

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam.
Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam. Photo by Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/File

Chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam says a resurgence of COVID-19 is forecast for Canada and it could speed up even more if the Omicron variant replaces Delta.

New federal modelling shows that if Omicron does not predominate over Delta, Canada could see between 2,900 and 15,000 daily cases by mid-January, depending on the effect of public health measures.

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Tam says if it’s assumed the Omicron variant is three times more transmissible than Delta and becomes dominant, then Canada could see 26,600 daily cases by then.

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Thursday

Two more Omicron cases; surgery backlog at a ‘peak’; NDP proposes take home tests for students

Hamdi Issawi

The omicron variant of COVID-19, first identified in South Africa, has been detected in locations from Australia to Germany and Canada, showing the difficulties of curtailing new strains.
The omicron variant of COVID-19, first identified in South Africa, has been detected in locations from Australia to Germany and Canada, showing the difficulties of curtailing new strains. Photo by Reuters/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

While Alberta sees marginal improvements on the fight to drive down the fourth wave of COVID-19, the latest variant of concern is establishing a foothold in the province.

In a series of tweets Thursday, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, said the province saw no new COVID-related deaths in the past 24 hours, but two more cases of the Omicron variant have cropped up, which makes for a total of 19.

“There has also been a possible case in an individual who attended an elementary school in Edmonton Zone while infectious,” Hinshaw said. “This is not a confirmed Omicron case, but out of an abundance of caution, we have notified the school.”

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Hinshaw added that the school will in turn notify those who may have been exposed, and that they will have access to rapid tests.

“It is recommended that anyone who receives a notification letter go for testing and monitor for symptoms,” Hinshaw said.

Alberta also reported 333 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, and a total of 4,094 active cases in the province, which works out to 46 fewer cases since Wednesday.

There were 368 Albertans hospitalized with the disease, five fewer than the day before, and 70 patients in intensive care, two more than Wednesday.

On Twitter, Hinshaw noted that, upon review, one COVID-related death reported Wednesday in a 20-year-old was unrelated to the disease, which decreases the province’s death toll by one for a total of 3,271.

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Meanwhile, Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping said at an unrelated announcement Thursday the province’s current surgical waitlist, which includes both postponed procedures and those newly required, had levelled off to 81,600 people, which is about 14,000 above pre-pandemic levels.

In early November, Copping had said during the first weeks of the fourth wave, an estimated 15,000 surgeries had been postponed.

“So this appears, at this point in time, to be the peak,” Copping said Thursday, adding that the province had levelled off its surgery backlog to pre-pandemic levels by August.

“It shows that our system is resilient, that we did recover from the first three waves,” added Copping, who also offered sympathy to those Albertans who have been affected by delayed procedures.

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At a Thursday press conference, the Opposition NDP also called on the government to release some of its rapid tests in storage available for school-aged children.

NDP education critic Sarah Hoffman said every Alberta student should be given five rapid tests over the holiday season so that families can make informed decisions and reduce the spread of COVID-19 before making plans.

“Knowing if you’re positive for COVID-19 before going to see your grandparents on Christmas Eve could give families time to plan so that they don’t actually bring the virus into homes of those who are most at risk,” Hoffmans said. “And in a few weeks’ time, students will be returning to classrooms, and widespread rapid testing will help ensure that they’re not bringing COVID back into schools after the holidays.”

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