Alberta government backbencher denies advocating for COVID case spike in unvaccinated

·3 min read

EDMONTON — The chairman of Alberta's United Conservative caucus is denying he said he wanted more unvaccinated people to catch COVID-19 so the province could attain herd immunity.

Nathan Neudorf says he wants cases to go down and that getting more people vaccinated is the best way to achieve that.

"I haven't changed anything. I never hoped for cases to go up," Neudorf said Monday in Lethbridge.

"We have seen cases rise in Alberta over the past several weeks and we have seen that largely among the unvaccinated population. My hope is that it will level off and drop as quickly as it rose."

The member of the legislature for Lethbridge-East added his original comments were his own and he wasn’t speaking for the government.

"Those are my personal understanding. As to the government's plan, it is to encourage as many Albertans as possible to be vaccinated, and trust that they would, to limit the spread of COVID-19."

Alberta has experienced a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases fuelled by the far more contagious Delta variant.

On Friday, Neudorf, told a news program that he hoped Alberta would see a rise in COVID-19 cases among the unvaccinated. He said that having infections sweep through unprotected people could leave the virus with no one else to infect and thereby cause cases to fall.

There are well over one million unvaccinated Albertans, including 660,000 children under 12 who are not eligible to get shots.

"I would just ask everybody to look at the science," Neudorf said Friday.

"What we've really seen, particularly with vaccinations, is that the new case counts, the new numbers, are vastly, vastly, within the population that is unvaccinated."

In the United Kingdom, as COVID-19 moved through the unvaccinated, cases spiked then dropped sharply because the virus "didn't have anywhere else to go," he said.

"So I am very hopeful that we will see the same kind of trend — maybe a bit of an accelerated case rate — but then a very quick decline as well, allowing us to safely keep businesses open so we don't have to add further (health) restrictions."

Opposition NDP critic Shannon Phillips called on Neudorf to apologize and resign as caucus chairman.

"He said that he's hoping that COVID infections spike. That is an odious and shameful thing for any elected official to say," said Phillips.

"And he did not clearly retract, apologize, take responsibility or show accountability for those comments."

Alberta is one of a number of provinces dealing with rising cases or bracing for a fourth wave.

Manitoba, British Columbia and Quebec are bringing in mandated vaccine rules that people show proof of vaccination before being allowed to enter non-essential public places, including bars, restaurants or sports venues.

Alberta has made clear it will not follow suit. The province lifted all but a handful of COVID-19 public health rules July 1.

What remains is a welter of locally driven rules for businesses, sports teams, school boards and municipalities on masking, testing and proof of vaccination.

Daily case counts were above 1,000 for four consecutive days last week, before dipping to 960 on Saturday and 865 on Sunday.

There were 401 people in hospital, of whom 98 were in intensive care. The majority of those in ICUs are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.

Alberta's hospitals remains stressed by staff fatigue, shortages and bed closures resulting in cancelled surgeries.

Premier Jason Kenney, who has been on vacation, Health Minister Tyler Shandro and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, chief medical officer of health, have not spoken publicly for weeks.

Phillips renewed her call for them to do so.

"Where is the government and why are they not marshalling appropriate public health resources to ensure we are fighting the fourth wave and keeping our economy moving forward?" she asked.

Also Monday, the province announced that starting Wednesday it will boost immunity for high-risk individuals by offering third vaccine shots to seniors living in congregate care and for the immunocompromised.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 30, 2021.

Dean Bennett, The Canadian Press

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