Posted on Jan 20, 2021


EDMONTON - Albertans need Premier Jason Kenney to present a proactive and transparent plan to respond to emerging variants of COVID-19, which have spread rapidly in several other countries and which have been detected in Canadian provinces.

“Jason Kenney was too slow to act when the second wave escalated dangerously in the fall, and Albertans need to know that this time, the province is ready in advance if one or more of the new variants begins to spread in our communities,” said David Shepherd, NDP Critic for Health. “We need to step up our genetic surveillance for new variants, and the Kenney government needs to present a transparent containment plan to prevent community spread.”

Variants identified in the United Kingdom, South Africa, Brazil and the United States are believed to spread faster and more easily than the dominant strain of COVID-19. After beginning to ease restrictions, the UK went into national lockdown in December as the B.1.1.7 variant swept across the country, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now predicts that the UK variant will be the dominant strain in the US in March

According to Dr. Deena Hinshaw, speaking at a Tuesday update, Alberta has identified 12 cases of the variant identified in the UK, and five of the variant identified in South Africa. It should be noted the information related to the variant was not proactively disclosed but only in response to media questions. All cases so far are related to international travel, and there is no evidence of community spread.

“This news was revealed in response to a question from the media,” said Shepherd. “Albertans shouldn’t have to wait for someone to ask a question to hear important details about these new threats to our health system and our economy. Albertans deserve to have daily, public access to this information.”

Since cases of the variants were detected in Alberta, The UCP government has not provided any information or modelling about the variant in their daily COVID-19 update news releases. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, the UK variant (B.1.1.7) is estimated to increase transmissibility by up to 70%, and could increase the reproductive number (R) by 0.4 or greater.

The Official Opposition is calling for the Kenney government to:

  • Provide daily reporting of testing for variants and new cases detected 
  • Increase the rate of genetic sequencing to ten per cent of all positive tests, as the UK has done.
  • Present Albertans with the province's detailed strategy to respond to the variants. 
  • Include officials who can provide technical information about the variants and the province’s response.

“I sincerely hope that these variants are detected and contained quickly, but we must be ready to protect Albertans if we start to see these variants spread,” Shepherd said. “Reopening our economy and keeping it open safely depends on Alberta preventing the kind of exponential spread of COVID-19 we saw in December.”