The mayor of Edmonton, along with 11 other area mayors, penned a letter Tuesday to Health Minister Tyler Shandro, urging the Alberta government to introduce public health measures, including a vaccine passport, in addition to those mandated on September 3.
"Our region’s municipalities are experiencing the highest infection multiplier in the province," reads the letter. "Together, we have the most citizens currently in hospital and intensive care."
With the province yielding three times the active case rate per 100,000 people compared to the national average, the signatories call for consistency in Alberta’s COVID-19 response, Global News reports.
As of Friday, the most recent day the province provided COVID-19 statistics, there were 168 COVID hospitalizations in the Edmonton zone. Forty-five of those people were in the ICU.
"Residents should not be expecting municipal councils to assume public health policy development and responsibilities," writes the letter, adding concerns over costs to municipal taxpayers.
The signatories called on the Alberta government to release regional COVID-19 data, adding that "more responsive and transparent public communications" would protect "the prosperity of our economy."
On September 2, children accounted for 293 reported cases, with the following breakdown: 55 cases at 1-4 years; 66 cases at 5-9 years; 177 cases at 10-19 years. As of Tuesday, 58,999 Albertan children contracted COVID-19, amounting to 23 percent of total cases.
"Failure to extend masking requirements to schools and post-secondary institutions further perpetuates division between Albertans, creates more uncertainty for students, staff and faculty alike, and — most importantly — exposes students, their families, and those in their communities to COVID-19," reads the letter.
None of the children who contracted COVID-19 in the province have died from the virus.
On Friday, Premier Jason Kenney and Shandro announced several public health measures, including a province-wide mask mandate, ending liquor sales past 10 pm and a vaccine incentive program to bolster vaccination rates.
Kenney clarified that the vaccine incentive is not a bribe. "If you’ve been holding out and you just haven’t gotten around to it, it's now literally worth your while," he said.
Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams pointed out that the premier "seems to have prioritized the freedom and the rights of that small minority that has refused to be vaccinated, doesn’t want to have masks and yet wants to have full access to society."
She added: "That’s just becoming an increasingly untenable position to hold."
"Vaccine passports are the way forward," tweeted Official Opposition leader Rachel Notley. "Let’s get back to doing the things we love. Music festivals, sporting events, movies at the theatre."
Citing the ineffectiveness of the premier’s "vaccine lottery," she said other jurisdictions implemented vaccine passports to influence more people to get the jab.
A recent Leger poll found that 57 percent of Albertans "strongly support" mandating a vaccine passport, while 20 percent "somewhat support" and four percent "somewhat oppose."
Only 20 percent "strongly oppose" vaccine passports.
"Implementation of a vaccine passport has proven to be effective internationally and within Canada — it has resulted in vaccination uptick," reads the letter.
However, Jonathan Alward, prairies director for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), contended that not all business owners support the measure. He cited a survey of CFIB members in August indicating only 40 percent of Alberta-based respondents support a vaccine passport, despite the possibility of another lockdown.
"There’s a lot of valid reasons why business owners would have reservations," said Alward. "There’s a lot of grey area about requiring mandatory vaccinations of staff, for example… If you’re a restaurant, you can’t ask your staff to work from home."
He added that businesses also have practical concerns around the administration and policing of such a program, with some fearing harassment or pushback from the public.
"What we’ve heard from some of our members in places where this has already happened is that your staff ends up taking undue punishment from some customers," he said.
"So I think it’s right that any province looking at doing this — whether you’re talking about the government of Alberta or elsewhere — really make sure that they’re doing it as a last resort."
Quebec, BC, Ontario and Manitoba will all require proof of vaccination to access restaurants, bars and sports events.
"At the very least, the government should be looking at vaccine passports now," said Alberta’s former chief medical officer of health Dr. James Talbot.
"You want to get the message out to the people who haven’t been immunized that with the right to refuse the vaccine comes the responsibility to not contribute to the crashing of the healthcare system," he said. "You also want to get the message out to the people who are immunized that they did the right thing."
On Saturday, Alberta reported 1450 new cases, the province's highest since May 13. 602 residents are hospitalized and the 15486 active cases are the highest since late May.
Only 70 percent of eligible Albertans are fully vaccinated.