Alberta Health Services says it is exploring its legal options after hundreds have attended a rodeo competition in Central Alberta – to protest against COVID-19 restrictions. But some questioned how the event was allowed to continue in the first place.
Over the weekend, when Alberta reported thousands of new cases of COVID-19, reaching shocking numbers not previously seen in the pandemic, hundreds attended rodeos on an empty plot of land along Highway 2A, near Bowden, just a few blocks away. About 30 kilometers south of Red Deer.
The Alberta Hospital System is preparing for a massive wave of patients and some regions have reduced the number of surgeries in preparation for them.
The province currently has the highest active case rate in Canada or the United States, and the total active COVID-19 case is currently 22,920, its highest rate ever.
I think there is some sense of frustration on the part of healthcare workers seeing large crowds not dispersed.Infectious Diseases Doctor Stephanie Smith
An AHS spokesperson said prior to the event, inspectors had notified rodeo organizers in writing that the event would break public health restrictions if it continued, and that AHS was considering its legal options.
“It is disappointing that the organizers ignore this information and go ahead with the event, knowing that it is a clear violation of current public health restrictions,” the association said in an emailed statement.
“Additionally, it is extremely worrying that people are intentionally putting fellow Alberta at risk by ignoring restrictions, particularly with the increase in cases and the subsequent pressure on our health care system.”
A spokesman for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police said they were not aware of any charges brought in connection with the incident on Sunday.
Watch | Hundreds defy Alberta’s COVID-19 restrictions to attend rodeos:
Prime Minister Jason Kenny, who has been criticized for waiting so long to impose new restrictions and failing to enforce those rules in place, rebuked rodeo pioneers on Twitter on Sunday afternoon.
“On a personal level, I feel anger and sadness to see so many people selfishly positioning themselves in front of others. The rodeo celebrates Alberta’s western heritage, which is an essential part of our community spirit and the search for others, especially the vulnerable,” Kenny said.
“This is the opposite of what these people are doing.”
Kenny blamed Alberta for ignoring restrictions on the current situation the province finds itself in.
The doctor says that consistent messages are required
Event attendees told CBC News that they believe the pandemic is a “fraud” and that COVID-19 is a “flu” that is not dangerous. Despite epidemiological restrictions, more than 2,000 Alberta residents die from COVID-19 while about 30-50 Alberta dies each year from influenza.
Dr Stephanie Smith, an infectious disease physician at University of Alberta Hospital, said she would not describe the restrictions as being particularly restrictive.
“I think there is some sense of frustration on the part of health care workers seeing large crowds not dispersed … They will need hospital and ICU care and it will continue to emphasize the system more.”
Watch | Rob Stewart, the mayor of Bowden, Alta, told David Common on Power and Politics that those who violated health restrictions in rodeos outside his town should be held accountable.
Smith said she believes that if there were more consistent messages from the government about how the restrictions worked, the rules might have been adhered to more strictly.
Kenny refused to impose new restrictions on Monday, saying people would likely not follow them anyway, but by Thursday, they had introduced new rules on so-called COVID-19 hotspots. He said the procedures were critical to bending the curve.
“Until a much larger percentage of the population is vaccinated, we really need restrictions. So I think part of… lack of commitment might just be a feeling of having mixed messages,” Smith said.
The rodeo has been announced since March. It was built on private land after the town’s agricultural association canceled its permit.
Opposition leader Rachel Notley said the government had ample time to act to prevent a potentially dangerous event from occurring.
“We received good notice of this happening and no one did anything about it,” she said.
The rodeo wasn’t the only big event in Alberta to break public health requirements this weekend.
Street Church ministries continued to violate public health orders by organizing large services and protests. The American Health Services Association said church leader Artur Paulowski continued to deny inspectors access to his building, and instead used abusive language, bullying, and racist insults at association staff.
AHS obtained a warrant to enter the church site; She said legal steps, like this one, take a long time to be addressed through the court system.
The organizers behind this weekend’s rodeo say they are planning to hold another event on Canada Day.
More to track …
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