GUNTER: Why Ontario is in panic mode and Alberta is not

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney.

Alberta has more active COVID cases per capita than Ontario, so how come Ontario is in full panic mode and Alberta is not?

To be sure, there are still panicky people in Alberta. I call them COVID Karens.

They still gasp and jump back when someone walks the wrong way down a grocery store aisle. And they clamour for Australian-style lockdowns: Confine everyone to their homes, erect military roadblocks and forbid people even to walk down their own residential streets.

In general, though, Albertans seem to take risk in stride a bit better.

But the technical answer, I think, is Alberta vaccinated more of its older citizens (not just those in long-term care) early and, thus, has reduced the number of severe cases in this third, Trudeau Wave of the pandemic.

(I call it the Trudeau wave because its origins are in the failure of the Trudeau government to order enough vaccine last summer. That has put Canada way behind countries such as the U.S. and U.K. in inoculating citizens, which has allowed COVID variants to take off here.)

Alberta has about 400 active cases for every 100,000 population; Ontario has around 300.

Yet Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has never threatened to set up police checkstops everywhere to question motorists about why they are out of their homes.

There has never been any suggestion, as there was in Ontario, of siccing cops on parents and conducting stop-and-frisks while they’re watching their kids play on the neighbourhood teeter-totter.

You wouldn’t get away with that in Alberta. And as Ontario Premier Doug Ford has found out the hard way, you can’t get away with it in Ontario, either. Thankfully.

The scientific reason for the difference in how Canada’s two most-affected provinces have reacted is that Ontario’s hospitalization rate is much higher than Alberta’s – roughly 50 per cent higher.

And its death rate is even worse.

The seven-day average for COVID deaths in Alberta is currently about four per day. In Ontario, it’s about 28. Even adjusting for Ontario’s much greater population, that is still double Alberta’s deaths. (Although both provinces have fewer daily deaths than they each had in the second wave.)

The difference in hospitalizations and deaths is also consistent with the differences between the two province’s vaccine rollouts.

Alberta’s COVID restrictions always have been looser than Ontario’s. And they remain so.

All stores, large and small, are open in Alberta. Retailers are subject to a 15 per cent capacity limit, yet customers seldom have to wait outside until it is their turn to shop.

Restaurant patios remain open, although indoor dining is suspended.

Gyms are open for personal training, but not group classes.

Churches may hold indoor services subject to social distancing rules and the same 15 per cent capacity as shopping malls.

And you can still have friends over (up to a total of 10) to sit outside and share a beer and a burger.

All of that remains the case even after Premier Jason Kenney announced last month that he was backsliding the province into a more strict level of restrictions.

Last December, at the peak of the second wave, Alberta was getting 1,800 new cases a day and had over 900 in hospital, 150 in ICU – the Ontario equivalents of 6,300, 3,150 and 525, respectively.

Now we are back up to an average of nearly 1,500 new cases a day, but have only 450 in hospital and 100 in ICU – much better cases-to-hospitalizations and -deaths ratios.

This could be due to lag time. Maybe two or three weeks from now, Alberta’s health system will be overwhelmed like Ontario’s. Currently, it is at only 83 per cent of capacity.

But mostly I want to thank the way Alberta has rolled out vaccines.

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