Premier Jason Kenney said Tuesday residents can expect the proof of vaccination system to remain in place until early 2022. He notes that the measure is bolstering vaccination rates while driving down COVID cases.
Alberta Health said 85 percent of eligible Albertans have at least one dose of a COVID vaccine, up from 78 percent a month ago. Over three-quarters of eligible residents received two doses, reported Global News.
"Alberta is doing good work to close in on the national vaccination average," said the premier. "Alberta has moved from being about ten-points behind the Canadian average for first dose coverage to within two percent."
Alberta Health said Tuesday it is on the verge of spending $15 million to pay vaccine-hesitant residents to get the COVID shot directly. The province said more than 152,000 Albertans received a preloaded debit card to get the vaccine, a promotion that ends Thursday.
While other provinces mandated proof of vaccination of non-essential businesses, Alberta’s program is voluntary. However, companies that refuse the program face additional reductions to their capacity limit.
Alberta Health President and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu said COVID cases plateaued but cautioned that the health system remains under severe stress. The premier lauded the 'success' of the exemptions program in conjunction with rising vaccination rates for the declining cases.
Health Minister Jason Copping also announced Tuesday that Albertans could display their vaccination status through a QR Code on a downloadable app. He said Albertans would require their QR Codes as proof of vaccination by November 15.
"I fully expect that we will have it in place through at least the first quarter of next year, 2022 because we are headed into an uncertain period," said Kenney, who warned residents to be vigilant when people spend more time indoors during the winter months. "We will head into seasonal headwinds in terms of viral spread," he added.
Over the Thanksgiving long weekend, Alberta observed declining COVID cases averaging 840 a day. Kenney thanked residents who followed public health restrictions last weekend, but added the province has a long way to go. Thirty-three Albertans died from COVID then, including a 14-year-old.
"It’s still too early to suggest that this is a trend, but it’s a good sign, and it’s a faint silver lining to what has been a challenging period for our healthcare system," said Yiu, adding Alberta Health is working to resume thousands of non-urgent surgeries cancelled provincewide to handle the COVID surge.
Alberta has had double the average number of 173 intensive care beds, with 300 people receiving critical care Tuesday, mainly for COVID. Alberta’s intensive care units are 78 percent full, down one percent from recent weeks with the extra beds.