Covid no longer means special measures. Province brings treatment in line with flu and other viruses
Adapting COVID-19 measures to support Albertans
With strong vaccine uptake, Alberta will gradually bring COVID-19 measures in line with other respiratory viruses to ensure health system capacity for the fall.
Nearly 75.6 per cent of eligible Albertans have now received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 64.3 per cent are fully immunized. Vaccines dramatically reduce the risk of severe outcomes and the risk of infection. While COVID-19 cases may rise in the coming months, a surge of hospitalizations and other severe outcomes is much less likely thanks to vaccines.
In the coming weeks, Alberta’s health system will take steps to make sure that it is ready to support all patients, including those with COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses, like influenza, which health officials expect to increase this year.
As a part of this, Alberta will bring COVID-19 quarantine, isolation, and other measures in line with those used for influenza and other viruses.
Testing for severe cases, provincial monitoring, outbreak management in high-risk settings, and other key measures will remain in place. Health officials will be able to adapt as needed if hospitalizations due to COVID-19 spike in the future.
“Our health system will keep protecting Albertans who are exposed to COVID-19 while also ensuring that we are able to handle all other viruses and illnesses. As the majority of us are vaccinated against COVID-19, we are adapting to make sure that the health system is ready to care for all Albertans, whatever their illness. Please get vaccinated to help protect your health and the health of those around you.”
“Our top priority is supporting the health of Albertans. COVID-19 is still with us but we are now in a place where we need to manage it through vaccinations and the proven public health measures used for other communicable viruses. We expect to see increased influenza and other viruses this year, and these changes will make sure the health system is ready and able to support all Albertans in the months ahead.”
A two-phase transition will be used to safely monitor the impact of the initial changes, adapt as needed over the next few weeks, and give more time to vaccinate Albertans.
The following changes will be effective July 29:
- Quarantine for close contacts will shift from mandatory to recommended. Isolation for anyone with COVID-19 symptoms and for confirmed positive cases is still required.
- Unimmunized individuals who know they have been exposed to COVID-19 should monitor for symptoms and seek testing if they become symptomatic.
- Anyone who is not fully immunized should avoid high-risk locations such as continuing care facilities and crowded indoor spaces if they have been in contact with a case in the past 14 days.
- All positive cases will continue to be notified. Contact tracers will no longer notify close contacts of exposure. Individuals are asked to inform their close contacts when informed of their positive result.
- Contact tracers will continue to investigate cases that are in high-risk settings such as acute and continuing care facilities.
- Outbreak management and identification will focus on high-risk locations, including continuing and acute care facilities and high-risk workplaces. Community outbreaks with a surge in cases leading to severe outcomes will also be addressed as needed.
- Asymptomatic testing is no longer recommended. Testing will continue to be available for individuals who are symptomatic.
- Mandatory masking remains in acute and continuing care facilities, publicly accessible transit, taxis and ride-share.
The following changes will take effect on Aug. 16:
- Provincial mandatory masking orders will be lifted. Some masking in acute care or continuing care facilities may still be required.
- Isolation following a positive COVID-19 test result will no longer be required, but strongly recommended.
- Individuals with symptoms of any respiratory infection should still remain at home until symptoms have resolved.
- Staying home when sick remains an important way to care for those around us by not passing on any infection.
- Isolation hotels and quarantine support will no longer be available.
- Testing will be available for Albertans with symptoms when it is needed to help direct patient care decisions.
- This testing will be available through assessment centres until Aug. 31 and, after that, will be in primary care settings including physicians’ offices. For those with severe illness requiring urgent or emergency care, testing will be available in acute care and hospital settings.
- COVID-19 testing will also be offered as needed in high-risk outbreaks such as in continuing care facilities.
- Public health will focus on investigating severe cases that require hospitalization and any deaths due to COVID-19.
- Outbreak management and preventative measures will continue focusing on outbreaks in high-risk settings, such as continuing and acute care facilities.
- Community outbreaks will continue to be addressed as needed.
- Daycares and schools will be supported with measures that would be effective for any respiratory virus if outbreaks are identified.
Health officials will continue to closely monitor hospitalizations and other severe outcomes due to COVID-19 in the province. Additional measures will be taken, as needed, in specific facilities or areas where an outbreak is occurring leading to severe outcomes.
Universal masking will not be required in schools once students return. However, it is recommended as a temporary outbreak intervention in response to respiratory outbreaks. A guidance document to support return to schools is being finalized and will be released in mid-August.
A wastewater baseline testing program will also be launched to provide area trend information and monitor variants of concern. More details will be released in the coming weeks.
‘A crisis’: Calgary charity seeks one-month homes for Ukrainian refugees after influx
Ukrainian evacuees Dmytro Syrman, left, his wife, Anastasiia, centre, and their four-year-old daughter Varvara attend a news conference highlighting the need for temporary housing in Calgary on Wednesday, March 29, 2023. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
By Bill Graveland in Calgary
After six months under Russian occupation, Dmytro Syrman and his family decided to flee Ukraine for a safer life abroad and are now in Calgary.
The family lived in Dniprorudne, a mining city of 17,000 in southern Ukraine. Syrman worked as a human resources manager at an iron factory.
In August, Syrman, his wife, Anastasiia, and four-year-old daughter Varvara embarked on a six-day, 3,000-kilometre drive to Poland.
“On the 24 of February, when the Russian army attacked Ukraine and occupied our city in March 2022, we lost everything,” Syrman said Wednesday.
He said they began planning their escape when they realized Russian soldiers weren’t leaving their city.
“We started all of this because we were scared for Varvara,” he said. “When Russian bombs were falling near our city it was really scary.”
Their home is still under Russian occupation.
For the past year the family stayed in Poland, sent in their paperwork to come to Canada, and two weeks ago arrived in Calgary.
They’re now staying with a host family for a month while they look for long-term accommodation and to find jobs.
“We are here and starting a new life. We can’t believe about people who don’t know us and many helped us. We’re really shocked,” Syrman said.
The Syrmans were helped by Calgary’s Centre for Newcomers, which started a campaign to find 100 hosts for Ukrainian families or individuals for a month while they find housing of their own.
Kelly Ernst, chief program officer with the centre, said there has been a flood of Ukrainians trying to take advantage of a federal program that allows them to temporarily resettle in Canada.
The Canada-Ukraine Authorization for Emergency Travel program has been extended until July and Ernst said he expects people will continue to flee the war-torn country.
“We’re in a desperate, dire need at the moment for host homes to try to accommodate the evacuees coming from Ukraine. It’s reaching the proportions of being a crisis moment,” said Ernst.
He said people arriving elsewhere in Canada are migrating to Calgary because the rents are lower than in larger cities such as Toronto and Vancouver.
Ernst said approximately 450 people have been arriving in Calgary every week from Ukraine and his organization has helped people staying nights in the airport, off the street and at homeless shelters.
Natalia Shem, who is the manager of housing for the Ukrainian evacuees, said it’s difficult for the newcomers to find somewhere to live before arriving.
“It’s almost impossible to find long-term rent being outside of Canada and people who come here need one month of stay,” Shem said. “It’s an average time a family can find long-term rent, job and settle down here in Canada.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 29, 2023.
Budget measures unlikely enough to spur major carbon capture investments: Experts
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Chrystia Freeland delivers the federal budget in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Tuesday, March 28, 2023. Industry watchers say Tuesday’s federal budget likely won’t be enough to convince Canadian oil and gas companies to pull the trigger on expensive, emissions-reducing carbon capture and storage projects. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
By Amanda Stephenson in Calgary
A question mark continues to hang over the future of carbon capture and storage projects in Canada, in spite of a pledge in Tuesday’s federal budget to deliver more investment certainty for major emissions-reducing projects.
“Look, we have set some very aggressive climate targets in Canada. You can’t kick the can down the road,” said carbon capture advocate James Millar, arguing that’s exactly what the federal government did Tuesday when it provided no additional details around its previously stated intention to reduce the risk of investing in pricey emissions-reduction projects by essentially guaranteeing the future price of carbon.
“The difference comes down to investment certainty in the U.S., versus the promise of investment certainty in Canada.”
As president and CEO of the International CCS (carbon capture and storage) Knowledge Centre, a non-profit organization based in Regina, Millar had been closely watching Tuesday’s budget in hopes of obtaining more federal support for the expensive technology that can be used to trap harmful greenhouse gas emissions from industrial processes and store them safely underground.
Heavy emitters — in particular, the oil and gas sector — have identified carbon capture and storage technology as key to helping the sector meet its emissions reduction targets and have been looking for government incentives akin to what is being offered south of the border, where the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act promises to pay companies a guaranteed US$85 price for each tonne of injected carbon.
While Canada has already announced an investment tax credit that will help to offset some of the up-front capital costs of carbon capture projects, companies have so far been hesitant to pull the trigger and go ahead with proposed large-scale projects.
The Pathways Alliance, for example, a consortium of oilsands companies, has proposed building a $16.5-billion carbon capture and storage transportation line to combat emissions from existing oilsands infrastructure in northern Alberta.
But the group has not yet made a final investment decision, saying it needs to know its project will be competitive with those in the U.S. before proceeding.
One thing the oil and gas sector has said will help with that is some kind of mechanism that would reduce the risk to companies that the federal price on carbon could be lowered or eliminated. If a new government were to be elected and remove or change Canada’s carbon pricing system, investing in expensive carbon-reducing technology could suddenly become uneconomical.
On Tuesday, the federal government reiterated that it intends to create such a mechanism through a so-called carbon contracts for difference system — but disappointed many who were hoping for details. Instead, the government announced it plans to begin consultations around the development of such a program.
Millar said while he doesn’t doubt the government’s good intentions, companies that have proposed large-scale projects need to get moving now if they have any hope of meeting Canada’s goal to reduce this country’s overall emissions by 40 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 looms.
“We’re already in 2023, we’re seven years out. The consultations that were announced yesterday will take months,” he said. “I think it will take at least a year because it’s going to take time to set up the process.”
The Pathways Alliance itself took a diplomatic tone Tuesday, issuing a statement after the tabling of the budget saying it was “encouraged” by the signal that more policy certainty is coming, and adding it looks forward to a “better understanding” of the government’s intentions.
But Greg Pardy of RBC Capital said in a research note that in spite of some enhancements to the previously announced investment tax credit, budgetary support for carbon capture and storage was “somewhat limited — perhaps even disappointing.”
“In our view, Canada’s federal government needs to shift into much higher gear when it comes to incentivizing decarbonization investment if it is to achieve its bold climate change ambitions,” Pardy said.
A report from BMO Capital Markets published just before the release of Tuesday’s budget said Canada’s policy framework for large-scale deployment of carbon capture and storage disadvantages producers here compared to the U.S., “despite claims to the contrary from some proponents of the environmental lobby.”
Environmentalists have been critical of any additional federal support for carbon capture, calling it akin to a subsidy for oil and gas companies that enables them to increase production when the world should be scaling down fossil fuel usage.
But the BMO report said carbon capture is an essential part of the energy transition, and without offering improved incentives to keep up with the U.S., Canada risks not meeting its 2030 emissions reduction targets.
“Canada’s market-based carbon price systems are much too uncertain to act as ‘incentive’ for industry to invest in major decarbonization projects,” the BMO report stated.
“Emitters need financial supports that are tangible and recognized by financial institutions to underwrite bank financing.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 29, 2023.
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