Premier Jason Kenney addresses weeks-long absence during 4th wave of pandemic

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney reappeared after a weeks-long absence on Wednesday with a Facebook live where he answered selected questions from Albertans and teased an upcoming incentive to encourage people to get vaccinated.

Kenney’s last public appearance was 23 days ago, on Aug. 9, when he announced an expansion to the Labatt’s brewing plant in Edmonton.

Since then there have been frequent public calls from doctors and the Opposition for the premier to step in and communicate a plan to combat the surging, delta-driven fourth wave of the pandemic. During that time, active cases and ICU hospitalizations have quadrupled; there are currently 12,290 active cases and 465 people in hospital, 107 in ICU.

In response to a viewer question about his absence, the premier said with a laugh, “I’m right here, in the McDougall Centre [the site of the premier’s Calgary office], where I’ve been working this week.” 

The premier said he has been on a summer holiday — the first lengthy vacation he’s taken since 2015. He said earlier in the day, he had attended a lengthy briefing with Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw, who also has not been seen in public since Aug. 13. 

“It’s important that a person in my position doesn’t burn out,” Kenney said, adding that during his vacation he was on his phone each day receiving regular government briefings. “I don’t think people taking a bit of personal time should be a political football.”

Kenney said he usually only holds news conferences when he has a significant announcement to make, often about funding, which he said could be seen as inappropriate interference during the federal election campaign. He added that the government will hold a news conference later this week about the rapid increase of COVID-19 cases in the province.

He also addressed concerns that he chose to make his first appearance after his absence on Facebook, rather than hosting a news conference that would allow reporters to freely ask questions on any topic, and follow-ups. 

“I’m hiding in plain view,” Kenney joked. “Normally we get tens of thousands of viewers … I think that’s public accountability right there.”

Questions the premier chose to answer included plans for re-implementing a mask mandate or further measures —Kenney says they’ll monitor the situation  — and how the province will encourage more people to get vaccinated.

The premier said there will be an announcement soon on a new and different incentive to encourage more people to get vaccinated. 

“We may have to take other measures to encourage people, the unvaccinated, to ensure they are not putting themselves in a position where they’re transmitting,” Kenney says.

Despite making up less than 12 per cent of Canada’s population, Alberta is currently home to 38 per cent of the country’s active COVID-19 cases.

About 66 per cent of all Albertans have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, considerably lower than the national average of 73.3 per cent. 

Kenney said he continues to look at public health restrictions as a last resort. 

“Indeed, if we do see this wave jeopardizing the health-care system we may have to take some very targeted actions but nothing like lockdowns,” he said. 

Earlier in the day, Friends of Medicare had issued a release calling on the premier, health minister or chief medical officer to provide a plan to mitigate the “current health crisis.”

“Instead of proactive measures to contain the fourth wave, we’ve seen bed closures, cancellations of elective surgeries, serious staff shortages,” said Sandra Azocar, the executive director of the public health non-profit. 

Kenney said the pandemic has been fraught with difficult decisions. 

“When this is all said and done we’re going to be able to look back in the cold light of day with objectivity.”

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