Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Alberta isn't going to "take lectures" from federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu. He accused her of allowing COVID into Canada by delaying the closure of the border last year.
"I find this ironic, coming from a minister who refused to close the borders to COVID hotspots during the pandemic," said Kenney. "Effectively, facilitating the entry of the virus into Canada. While countries in East-Asia immediately shut their borders in January and February of last year."
The first COVID-19 death in China was publicly reported on January 11, 2020. Taiwan restricted travel from China on January 26, followed by the United States on January 31. Australia followed suit on February 1 and South Korea on February 24.
The Public Health Agency at the time, in a February 10, 2020 memo to Health Minister Patricia Hajdu, cautioned against sending any "signal to Canadians that the government believes the risk within Canada is changing and other measures are necessary," wrote staff. "It will be important to underscore that this is not the case."
"Minister Hajdu was arguing to keep them open as long as she could from the worst hotspots in the world," said Kenney, adding: "She still hasn’t taken responsibility for that incompetent and dangerous decision."
He continued: "She was arguing against masks. She was following, blindly, the mistaken advice of the World Health Organization that there wasn’t a pandemic until they changed their tune in March [of last year]."
The Public Health Agency, as late as January 29, 2020, maintained it was safe for Canadians to travel to China. Records showed 1,796 travellers from Wuhan arrived in Canada over the period.
"Do you recommend travellers wear masks while visiting China or quarantine-blocked cities within the country such as Wuhan? No," said a January 29 agency briefing note. "It is not recommended that healthy travellers wear masks while visiting China or quarantine-blocked cities within the country."
Minister Hajdu’s notes for a February 12, 2020 teleconference warned against raising public alarm. "We remain concerned about social anxiety, misinformation and discrimination in the Chinese-Canadian community with the coronavirus," wrote staff.
Kenney furiously articulated that Alberta would not "take lectures" from Hajdu "when it appears, she and her boss, Justin Trudeau, are hell-bent on a federal election campaign."
A finance department opinion survey found Canadians were critical of the slow introduction of travel bans from infected areas.
"One of the more common concerns that participants raised with the government’s performance during the pandemic pertained to its management of international travel and borders," said the survey Qualitative Research On The State Of The Economy.
"Many felt the government should have closed the borders sooner than it did," wrote researchers. "Many also felt any travel in and out of the country should have been more limited." Findings were based on ten focus groups nationwide.
The department paid Quorus Consulting Group Inc. $59,775 for the survey in the first week of February.
As late as March 9, 2020, the health minister was given Question Period notes claiming a pandemic outbreak in Canada was unlikely. "The risk of spread of this virus within Canada continues to remain low at this time," wrote the Agency: "We continue to believe that Canada’s public health system is well equipped to contain cases coming from abroad, limiting the spread in Canada."
A global pandemic was declared on March 11. Cabinet invoked the Quarantine Act on March 26. Cabinet did not issue its first mandatory mask order until April 20, when it allowed airlines to deny boarding to any passenger without a face covering.
"If they really are that concerned about COVID," said Kenney, "then why is she getting ready to put up campaign signs?" He called Hajdu’s letter of opposition to Alberta’s reopening plan an "obvious political ploy" and said it is "divisive."
"I would ask that the federal government respect the expert advice of each provinces’ public health officials. In this case, our brilliant chief medical officer Dr. Hinshaw," said Kenney.
“The plan we are moving forward with was designed by the brilliant Dr. Hinshaw and her team to address all public health challenges and recognize that there’s not just one challenge we are facing as a society," he concluded.
Hajdu also deleted the minimum requirement of 75 percent of Canadians needing to be fully vaccinated under the new Quarantine Act rules in July. Currently, 58.2 percent of those over age 12 are fully vaccinated.
"Could you explain why you stepped away from that 75 percent?" asked a reporter. "We are not changing our measures at this time for individuals that are not fully vaccinated," replied Minister Hajdu.
"What would be the trigger for changing the rules?" asked a reporter. "One would be our own immunization campaign,”" replied Hajdu.
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