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Sad reality: Alberta top doc says COVID deaths keeping hospitals from being overrun

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EDMONTON — The head of Alberta’s health system says the COVID-19 hospital crisis has become so dire, a key reason the system hasn’t collapsed is because patients are dying.

“Each day we see a new high (total of critically ill patients),” Dr. Verna Yiu, president and CEO of Alberta Health Services, said Thursday.

Yiu said hospitals have admitted two dozen or more critically ill COVID-19 patients on average each day since Sunday.

“It’s tragic that we are only able to keep pace with these sort of numbers because in part some of our ICU patients have passed away,” she said. “This reality has a deep and lasting impact on our ICU teams.”

There were 310 patients Thursday in intensive care, the vast majority of them with COVID, and the vast majority of the COVID patients are not fully vaccinated or not vaccinated at all.

Alberta normally has 173 ICU beds, but has doubled that number to 350 by taking over extra spaces, such as operating rooms, and reassigning staff.

The result is non-urgent surgeries have been cancelled en masse across the province, including transplants, tumours, cancer operations and surgeries on children.

Physicians are being briefed in case resources get so short, they have to decide on the spot which patients get life-saving care and which don’t.

Yiu said it’s a fluid situation and they’re still determining when and how doctors will be asked to make those life-and-death decisions.

The United Conservative Party government has reached out for medical help from other provinces and from the federal government.

Bill Blair, the federal minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, said Ottawa can help by providing more critical care medical staff and by having the military airlift patients to other provinces.

“The Government of Canada will support the provincial government’s recent request and provide the necessary support,” Blair wrote in a statement on social media earlier Thursday.

The federal assistance includes a range of capabilities, including the deployment of (Canadian Armed Forces) medical resources and/or aeromedical evacuation capability, as well as the deployment of Canadian Red Cross resources.”

There are more than 20,100 active COVID-19 cases in Alberta and more than 1,000 people in hospital with the illness. Deaths have also been on the rise. There were 29 fatalities reported Tuesday, 20 more Wednesday — including the first person under age 20 — and 17 on Thursday. More than 2,600 people have died in Alberta.

In Calgary, Alberta’s Opposition NDP leader said it’s time for Premier Jason Kenney to hand over public health decisions related to COVID-19 to medical professionals.

Rachel Notley said it has become clear that Kenney is more focused on his political survival than the pandemic.

“It never should have come to this,” Notley said.

“Jason Kenney knew his plan wasn’t working as early as July and he did nothing. In fact, he left (on a vacation). All through August and into September the UCP refused to act while the crisis escalated.

“Now all Albertans are suffering the consequences of the UCP’s collective inaction and ineptitude.”

Notley said sound public health decisions are being undermined by political compromises and called for the decisions to be turned over to Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical health officer, backed by an independent scientific panel of advisers.

For months, Kenney has faced escalating criticism and calls for his resignation over his handling of COVID-19. The criticism began before last Christmas when his government was late to react to a second wave swamping hospitals. The government was late again in the third wave in May and is now chasing the pandemic again in what has become the fourth, and worst, wave.

At each stage, Kenney has been accused of pandering to anti-restriction elements in his party and waiting too late to implement rules to maintain public health.

Some United Conservative constituency associations are pushing for an immediate review of his leadership.

Joel Mullan, the party’s vice-president in charge of policy, has openly called for Kenney’s resignation, saying the public and the party have lost trust.

Kenney met with his caucus Wednesday and later asked the party to move up a leadership review from late 2022.

“The premier spoke with the president … and requested that the 2022 UCP (annual general meeting) take place in the spring and that the scheduled leadership review occur at that time,” Dave Prisco, the UCP director of communications, said in a statement. “The party is working to confirm a date and venue to make it a reality.”

Kenney deflected reporters’ questions earlier this week on whether he should resign, saying he’s focused on COVID-19 and not on political intrigue.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 23, 2021.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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Ten ex-MPs who served under two years to get $93,000 severance cheques: federation

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OTTAWA — MPs who lost their seats or stood down before the recent federal election could get $3.3 million in farewell payments, an analysis by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation has found.

MPs defeated at the polls and those who decided not to run again qualify for a severance cheque worth half their salary — some $92,900 or more if they were a cabinet minister or chaired a committee.

They include 10 MPs who served less than two years in the House of Commons, figures from the federation show.

Among them is James Cumming, elected in 2019 as Conservative MP for Edmonton Centre but who narrowly lost to Liberal Randy Boissonnault this time.

Louise Charbonneau was elected MP for Trois-Rivieres in 2019 for the Bloc Quebecois. She announced she would not run in 2021 earlier this year.

Paul Manly, who lost his seat as Green MP for Nanaimo-Ladysmith, served just over two years as an MP. He was elected to the B.C. seat in a May 2019 byelection.

If outgoing MPs are 55 or older and have been an MP for six years, they qualify for a pension instead of a severance cheque.

Sixteen MPs who left at the election stand to gain pensions worth $1 million or more if they live to age 90, according to the federation’s analysis.

It estimates that pensions for MPs leaving office in 2021 will cost the public purse $1.4 million a year.

Severance payments for MPs who will not return to Parliament in 2021 will cost the taxpayer $3.3 million, the assessment of publicly available figures shows.

Among those who qualify under the rules for a severance payment are 11 MPs elected in 2019.

Many taxpayers would be dismayed by the size of severance cheques for ex-MPs who served for so little time, said the federation’s Franco Terrazzano.

“You have had so many Canadians who have struggled through this pandemic and who have lost their jobs or taken pay cuts, and their taxpayer dollars are paying these huge severance cheques to MPs show served less than two years,” he said.

Benefits for Canadian MPs leaving office are more generous than in some other comparable countries, including the United Kingdom.

In the U.K., defeated MPs get a “loss of office” payment worth a few thousand pounds — approximately $5,000 — if they have served at least two years in Parliament. Unlike in Canada, they get nothing if they decide not to fight the election.

Some former Canadian MPs will miss out on a pension because the election was called a month short of the six years they needed to qualify.

Just before the end of the last session of Parliament, a Commons committee was informed that the MPs’ pension fund would receive an increase of $126.8 million. Most of the increase was due to an assessment by actuaries of the value and future needs of the pension fund.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 27, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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New urgency to airlift after Kabul blasts kill more than 100

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KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Evacuation flights from Afghanistan resumed with new urgency on Friday, a day after two suicide bombings targeted the thousands of people desperately fleeing a Taliban takeover and killed more than 100. The U.S. warned more attacks could come ahead of the looming deadline for foreign troops to leave, ending America’s longest war.

As the call to prayer echoed through Kabul along with the roar of departing planes, the anxious crowd outside the city’s airport was as large as ever. Dozens of Taliban members carrying heavy weapons patrolled one area about 500 meters (1,600 feet) from the facility to prevent anyone from venturing beyond.

Thursday’s bombings near the airport killed at least 95 Afghans and 13 U.S. troops, Afghan and U.S. officials said, in the deadliest day for American forces in Afghanistan since August 2011.

Afghan officials warned that the toll could rise, with morgues stretched to capacity and the possibility that relatives are taking bodies away from the scene. One official said as many as 115 may have died, with even more wounded. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

At least 10 bodies lay on the grounds outside Kabul’s Wazir Akbar Khan Hospital, where relatives said the mortuary could take no more. Afghans said many of the dead are unclaimed because family members are travelling from distant provinces.

In an emotional speech Thursday night, President Joe Biden blamedthe Islamic State group’s Afghanistan affiliate, which is far more radical than the Taliban militants who seized power less than two weeks ago in a lightning blitz across the country.

“We will rescue the Americans; we will get our Afghan allies out, and our mission will go on,” Biden said. But despite intense pressure to extend Tuesday’s deadline and his vow to hunt down those responsible, he has cited the threat of more terrorist attacks as a reason to keep to his plan — and the Taliban have repeatedly insisted he must stick to it.

The Taliban have wrested back control of Afghanistan two decades after they were ousted in a U.S.-led invasion following the 9/11 attacks, which were orchestrated by al-Qaida extremists being harbored in the country. Their return to power has terrified many Afghans, who fear they will reimpose the kind of repressive rule they did when they were last in control. Thousands have rushed to flee the country ahead of the American withdrawal as a result.

The U.S. said that more than 100,000 people have been safely evacuated from Kabul, but as many as 1,000 Americans and tens of thousands more Afghans are struggling to leave in one of history’s largest airlifts. Gen. Frank McKenzie, the U.S. Central Command chief overseeing the evacuation, said about 5,000 people awaited flights at the airfield on Thursday.

And more continued to arrive Friday. The attacks led Jamshad to head to the airport in the morning with his wife and three small children, clutching an invitation to a Western country he didn’t want to name. This was his first attempt to leave.

“After the explosion I decided I would try because I am afraid now there will be more attacks, and I think now I have to leave,” said Jamshad, who like many Afghans uses only one name.

Others acknowledged that going to the airport was risky — but said they have few choices.

“Believe me, I think that an explosion will happen any second or minute, God is my witness, but we have lots of challenges in our lives, that is why we take the risk to come here and we overcome fear,” said Ahmadullah Herawi, also seeking to flee.

In the wake of the attacks, McKenzie warned that more were possible, and Americans commanders were working with the Taliban to prevent them. Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde tweeted Friday that “we have renewed information about a high terrorist threat to the area around Kabul Airport,” but offered no details.

Scenes of chaos, desperation and horror from the airport have transfixed the world. Images of people standing knee-deep in sewage and families thrusting documents and even young children toward U.S. troops behind razor wire have come to symbolize both the disarray of the last days of the American presence in the country and the fears Afghans have for their future.

But chances to help those hoping to flee are fading fast for many. Many American allies have already ended their evacuation efforts, in part to give the U.S. time to wrap up its own operations before getting 5,000 of its troops out by Tuesday.

Britain said Friday its evacuations from Afghanistan will end within hours, and the main British processing center for eligible Afghans has been closed. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace told Sky News there would be “eight or nine” evacuation flights on Friday. British troops will leave over the next few days.

The Spanish government said it has ended its airlift. Sweden’s foreign minister said its evacuation was also over but not everyone got out. And the French European affairs minister, Clement Beaune, said on Europe 1 radio that the country will end its operation “soon” but may seek to extend it until after Friday night.

The Taliban have said they’ll allow Afghans to leave via commercial flights after the U.S. withdrawal, but it remains unclear which airlines would return to an airport controlled by the militants.

They have asked Turkey to operate Kabul airport, but a decision will be made “after the administration (in Afghanistan) is clear,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Friday. Taliban leaders have been holding talks with former Afghan leaders, including former President Hamid Karzai and Abdullah Abdullah, who headed the previous government’s reconciliation council, tasked with negotiating a deal with the Taliban.

Untold numbers of Afghans, especially ones who had worked with the U.S. and other Western countries, are now in hiding, fearing retaliation despite the group’s offer of full amnesty. The new rulers have sought to project an image of moderation in recent weeks — a sharp contrast to the harsh rule they imposed from 1996 to 2001, when they forced women to wear the all-encompassing burqa, required them to be accompanied by a male relative when they left home, banned television and music, and held public executions.

Despite the promises, Afghans in Kabul and elsewhere have reported that some Taliban members are barring girls from attending school and going door to door in search of people who worked with Western forces.

The bombings also raise questions about the Taliban’s vows to bring security to Afghanistan. No one knows how effective they will be at combating the Sunni extremists of IS, who have carried out a series of brutal attacks in Afghanistan, mainly targeting its Shiite Muslim minority.

___

Akhgar reported from Istanbul, Gannon from Islamabad and Anna from Nairobi, Kenya. Associated Press writers around the world contributed.

___

More of AP’s Afghanistan coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/afghanistan

Sayed Ziarmal Hashemi, Tameem Akhgar, Kathy Gannon And Cara Anna, The Associated Press

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