Alberta health-care system ‘collapsing,’ unions say in letter asking for military’s help

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Union leaders representing thousands of medical workers in Alberta have asked Premier Jason Kenney to deploy the military and Red Cross to shore up a health-care system they say is “collapsing right in front of our eyes,” due to rapidly rising COVID-19 cases.

“It’s time to call in the military to help our overwhelmed hospitals,’ says a letter issued Saturday and addressed to the premier, with a warning that hospitals have “run out of staff” to treat severe cases.

It was signed by the presidents of the Alberta Union of Provincial Employees, United Nurses of Alberta, the Health Sciences Association of Alberta and the Canadian Union of Public Employees, as well as the head of the Alberta Federation of Labour.

The letter notes that military units were deployed in April to support Ontario’s long-term care facilities. Also in April, the Canadian Armed Forces sent dozens of service members to help out at COVID-19 testing centres in Nova Scotia.

Dr. James Talbot, a former chief medical health officer for Alberta and co-chair of Alberta’s Strategic COVID-19 Pandemic Committee, issued his own dire warnings last week.

“We’re in crisis, Surgeries are being cancelled … ICUs are more than 50 per cent above normal capacity,” he said.

As of Thursday, there were 911 people in Alberta’s hospitals with COVID-19, including 215 in intensive care beds.

Between 18 and 20 severely ill Albertans — most of them unvaccinated — are being admitted to ICU every day, said Alberta Health Services president and CEO Dr. Verna Yiu.

Alberta Health Services has commandeered beds in operating rooms, recovery wards and observation spaces to create more ICU capacity and is prepared to transfer Albertans to Ontario for care if needed.


What’s happening across Canada

WATCH | Doctor holds counter-protest against demonstrators targeting hospitals: 

Doctor holds counter-protest against demonstrators targeting hospitals

Dr. Raghu Venugopal, an emergency room doctor in Toronto, held a counter-protest against demonstrators targeting Toronto General Hospital in opposition to COVID-19 measures and vaccine mandates. He says the protests are ‘unacceptable’ and ‘un-Canadian’ and that the government needs to legislate against demonstrations outside hospitals. 6:54


What’s happening around the world

As of Sunday, more than 228.3 million cases of COVID-19 had been reported worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus tracker. The reported global death toll stood at more than 4.6 million.

In the Asia-Pacific region, Premier Daniel Andrews unveiled a roadmap to easing restrictions in Australia’s Victoria state on Sunday. He said the state’s weeks-long lockdown will end once 70 per cent of those 16 and older are fully vaccinated, no matter if there are new cases.

Victoria is expected to meet that vaccination threshold on Oct. 26, Andrews said.

As of the weekend, just under 43 per cent of people in the state and just over 46 per cent of people nationwide had been fully vaccinated.

Australia reported 1,607 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, while Victoria state registered 507 new cases.

A police officer interacts with a man at a park in Sydney, Australia, on Saturday, following calls for an anti-lockdown protest rally amid the COVID-19 pandemic. (Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images)

In Asia, tens of thousands of devotees packed the old palace courtyard in the heart of Nepal’s capital on Sunday to celebrate the feast of Indra Jatra, marking the return of the festival season in the Himalayan nation after it was scaled down because of the pandemic.

The week-long Indra Jatra precedes months of other festivals in the predominantly Hindu nation.

Armed police guarded the alleys and roads leading to the main courtyard in the capital, Kathmandu, while volunteers sprayed sanitizers and distributed masks to the devotees.

People gather to watch the annual Indra Jatra festival in Kathmandu, Nepal, on Sunday. The festival, observed by Nepalese Hindus and Buddhists, marks the end of monsoon rains and the beginning of autumn. It also celebrates the end of the rice farming season. (Niranjan Shrestha/The Associated Press)

Nepal has imposed several lockdowns and other restrictions since the pandemic hit. According to the country’s Health Ministry, there have been 784,000 confirmed cases with more than 11,000 deaths. Only 19 per cent of the population has been fully vaccinated.

In the Americas, U.S. President Joe Biden goes before the United Nations this week, eager to make the case for the world to act with haste against the coronavirus, climate change and human rights abuses.

At a virtual COVID-19 summit he is hosting on Wednesday, leaders will be urged to step up vaccine-sharing commitments, address oxygen shortages around the globe and deal with other critical pandemic-related issues.

In Europe, Pope Francis on Sunday expressed his closeness to the victims of a flood in Mexico, which led to the deaths of at least 17 people, most of whom had COVID-19, at a hospital in the central Mexican state of Hidalgo. The pontiff was speaking to faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City for his weekly Angelus prayer.

Flooded rooms and damaged beds and equipment are seen in the public hospital in Tula, Hidalgo state, Mexico, on Sept. 7. Torrential rains in central Mexico suddenly flooded the hospital, killing more than a dozen patients. (Marco Ugarte/The Associated Press)

Torrential rains caused Mexico’s River Tula to burst its banks on Sept. 7, and more than 40 other patients in the public hospital in the town of Tula were transported away by emergency service workers. An initial assessment showed about 2,000 houses had flood damage, the Mexican government said in a statement.

Hidalgo Gov. Omar Fayad told local media that 15 or 16 out of the 17 fatalities were COVID-19 patients. The media said the deaths occurred when flooding caused by days of rain knocked out electricity at the hospital.

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