Canada: Alberta healthcare system on verge of collapse as Covid cases and anti-vax sentiments rise
A surge in coronavirus cases has pushed the healthcare system in the Canadian province of Alberta to the verge of collapse, as healthcare workers struggle against mounting exhaustion and a growing anti-vaccine movement in the region.
The province warned this week that its ICU capacity was strained, with more people requiring intensive care than any other point during the pandemic – nearly all of them unvaccinated.
“It’s not easy to go to work every day and watch people in their 30s die,” an ICU nurse in Edmonton told the Guardian. “Having to help a family say goodbye and then going through the actions that are required at the end of someone’s life, is worse than anyone can imagine.”
Alberta has long boasted of its loose coronavirus restrictions – including advertising the previous months as the “best summer ever” as it rolled back those few restrictions. It has also been the site of North America’s highest caseloads.
In a province with a long history of skepticism towards government, the pandemic has become fertile ground for protests and anti-vaccine rhetoric, including from elected officials, firefighters and police officers. During the ongoing federal election, the People’s Party of Canada, a fringe rightwing party that has come out against public health measures has seen its largest support base in rural Alberta.
On Monday, more than 60 infectious-disease doctors wrote a letter to the premier, Jason Kenney, warning of a catastrophic outcome if the province did not address the escalating caseload.
“Our healthcare system is truly on the precipice of collapse,” the physicians wrote. “Hospitals and ICUs across the province are under enormous strain and have reached a point where it is unclear if, or for how much longer, we can provide safe care for Albertans.”
“As soon as those breathing tubes come out, we’re kicking people out of ICU to make space for someone else,” said another nurse. “It’s getting bleak. It’s hard to watch.”
Medical staff in Edmonton, the provincial capital, warned they would soon have to triage incoming patients to determine who could receive lifesaving care.
Kenney, who hasn’t made any public appearances in weeks, held emergency meetings with senior government officials on Tuesday. The province announced a proof-of-vaccine card, with plans to release a QR code in the coming weeks.