Who is responsible for upholding COVID-19 safety regulations?
You might think, 'It's a collective responsibility.' But as the pandemic has progressed, that sentiment hasn't borne itself out in reality. Some groups, it seems, get all the leeway in the world to violate public health orders.
Take, for example, the protesters who flooded Grace Life Church in Parkland County this past weekend. Hundreds of people gathered in violation of the 10-person limit on outdoor gatherings; photos and video from the event show little physical distancing and too few masks. There were even reports of vandalism, racial slurs and trespassing on nearby Indigenous lands. Yet nary an enforcement ticket was seen.
It's ugly out there right now, and the latest restrictions handed down by Premier Jason Kenney just added fuel to the fire – so much fuel that some of the 750 protesters who gathered at the Alberta Legislature on Monday joined in a Trump-like chant to "lock up" Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
Now throw the small businesses and restaurants that have been at the wrong end of the public health yo-yo from the beginning into this toxic mix – businesses that have, with few notable exceptions, followed health rules and weathered the various restrictions imposed on them by the province. Justifiable criticism has circulated that big box stores – the Wal-Marts, Costcos et al – have remained open while smaller businesses have been forced to shut down their operations, move their businesses online or modify their services. Anyone who has visited a popular big box store in the past six months likely has tales to tell of long lines with no physical distancing, shoppers flouting rules, jostling and pushing past each other.
That's perhaps why the latest round of restrictions seems particularly unfair, again targeting the dining rooms of restaurants and the occupancy limits for small businesses, all of which have taken it on the chin since this pandemic began. The recent experience of the Crown and Anchor Pub in north Edmonton typifies the frustration. The owners took an enough-is-enough approach and attempted to stay open for indoor dining. AHS paid a visit and shut them down. How long did Grace Life Church flout the rules before action was taken? How long will the big box stores be allowed to operate without recourse?
That's not to say health measures were not desperately needed. Cases across the province have spiked dangerously high, and COVID-19 variant cases now make up the majority of new cases each day – meaning faster spread, more infections and more serious illnesses. But the province has done an indisputably bad job trying to balance politics and health, leading to widespread confusion about why certain measures are brought in, why some businesses can be open while others have to close, and why some gatherings are OK while others are prohibited.
It's a powder keg of frustration that just keeps building, and if the Kenney government isn't careful, it could explode before we reach critical vaccination mass. The bottom line is that the government's own COVID-19 models were predicting we would see another wave as variants took hold, yet our province struggles with growing cases. Health restrictions need to be consistent and fair. The lack of consistency causes public frustration, which results in violations of public health orders. That, of course, is what COVID-19 feeds upon.