Prime Minister Jason Kenney Said Alberta Government Won’t Follow Quebec’s plan to impose a financial fine to those who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
Kenney said the data shows that unvaccinated people are proving to be a much greater burden on the hospital system than vaccinated people, but it wouldn’t be fair to make them pay extra.
“If we go down that road, we’re rejecting the whole principle of universality of health care, and that’s why Alberta absolutely will not follow Quebec’s decision,” Kenney said in a town hall meeting on Facebook Tuesday night.
Quebec plans to tax people who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19. Can the province do that?
Quebec Prime Minister François Legault had announced earlier in the day that he plans to make unvaccinated adult residents pay a “significant” financial penalty as they occupy a disproportionate number of beds in hospitals.
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Kenney admitted that the unvaccinated are taking up far more hospital and intensive care beds, which has led to a knock-on effect of canceled surgeries as health workers are reassigned to deal with the pandemic.
But he said charging a fee would be akin to making a smoker pay more for lung cancer treatment or charging a high-risk skier for being injured and flying out of the backcountry.
“There is a bigger and deeper principle here, which is that we have a universal health care system,” the prime minister said.
“It doesn’t matter where you come from, how old you are, what your medical condition is, how rich you are or what life choices you have made. You are guaranteed free access to our healthcare system for medically necessary services.”
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in Ottawa that he would like to see more details before passing a verdict on Quebec’s plan, but added that the province has given assurances that it will not violate the Canada Health Act.
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Alberta, like other jurisdictions worldwide, is battling a rapid, escalating rise in COVID-19 cases caused by the highly contagious Omicron variant.
Kenney’s United Conservative government has sharply reduced attendance at public events before Christmas and vaccine passports are still required to access non-essential businesses, including bars and restaurants.
Kindergarten through 12th grade students were sent back to class this week after Kenney promised extra masks and millions more school shortcuts.
Last week, he said a million tests had come in and three million more would arrive each week after that for a total of 10 million from a private supplier. That is in addition to the four million from the federal government.
However, Health Minister Jason Copping said on Wednesday that only 500,000 of the promised federal tests have arrived, and the balance of the 10 million from private suppliers is mired in delays and global supply chain bottlenecks.
“We are working to confirm deliveries by the day, including 4.8 million tests that we purchased directly and hope to receive this week, going to schools and AHS (for health professionals),” Copping wrote on Twitter.
“We will update Albertans as more information becomes available.”
The opposition NDP has urged the government to publish forecasts of how bad the Omicron surge is expected to be and to provide better masks and highly efficient air filters for schools.
There are more than 61,000 reported active COVID-19 cases in the province, but Dr. Deena Hinshaw, the Chief Medical Officer of Health, has said reduced testing capacity means the true number of infections is likely to be 10 times higher.
She said this week the province is bracing for a “significant impact” on health care.
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There are 748 people in hospital with COVID-19, including 82 in intensive care.
Previous waves of the pandemic have already resulted in thousands of non-emergency operations being canceled as staff has been redeployed. According to Copping, the province does not expect to catch up until the middle of this year.
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Neurologist Dr. Mary Lou Myles, who joined the NDP at a news conference Wednesday, said staff relocations have harmed multiple sclerosis patients.
Myles said early intervention and diagnosis is critical for MS patients, but a consultation with a neurologist that should take weeks or months — and has lasted before — now takes a year.
Earlier diagnosis means earlier treatment and a better chance of preventing central nervous system damage and subsequent debilitating disabilities, she said.
“In the MS clinic itself, the relocation of specialist nurses has had an impact,” says Myles.
“One of the nurses has been relocated for almost a year. Other relocations were quite sudden and unpredictable, leading to a bit of chaos.”
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