The Saskatchewan government announced Monday it will not be easing COVID-19 restrictions for the upcoming Christmas holidays.
Instead, the government added new health measures to those that were instituted Nov. 27.
All of the measures will be in effect until Jan. 15, when they’ll be reassessed by Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical health officer.
“Normally, the Christmas season is a time where we all look forward to a break from our work, a chance for us to slow down and most importantly a chance for us to visit with some family who maybe we haven’t seen for a while,” Premier Scott Moe said during a media conference.
“The world always does slow down just a little bit over Christmas and the holiday season and I know this is going to be different and it’s going to be very challenging for many of us, but this needs to be a much quieter Christmas and this year we’re asking each and every one of you to do just that.”
Shahab noted the measures previously put in place have had some impact on the province’s COVID numbers, but the cases aren’t dropping as quickly as health officials would like.
As of Monday, there were 4,380 active cases being reported in Saskatchewan. The 269 new cases reported increased the province’s total to date to 12,238.
There also have been a high number of cases and deaths in long-term and personal care homes in recent weeks.
“These are all factors that require us to be especially vigilant over the holiday season and continue to work towards reducing our case numbers,” Shahab said. “It’s good that they are plateauing, but I think we really need to see them going down.”
That explains Monday’s new measures.
As of Thursday at 12:01 a.m., all private indoor gatherings will be limited to people who live in the same household. Those who live alone can meet with members of one consistent household, provided it comprises fewer than five people.
Outdoor gatherings will be limited to 10 people, provided social distancing between households can occur. That number previously was 30.
As of Saturday at 12:01 a.m., casinos and bingo halls must close.
Personal services such as hairdressers/barbers, esthetics, massage therapy, acupuncture, tattooing and similar businesses can operate at a maximum of 50 per cent capacity, including staff and clients.
Event venues, conference facilities, arenas, arts venues, museums, movie and live theatres and banquet facilities can have events of up to 30 people.
All guests must stay seated for the duration of the event and food and drink are not permitted.
Weddings, funeral ceremonies and worship services are limited to 30 people. Other services can’t occur in multiple locations within one facility.
Starting Christmas Day at 12:01 a.m., retail services must reduce their capacity to 50 per cent. Large retail outlets — those with a square footage of more than 20,000 — will be limited to 25 per cent capacity.
Shahab said the guidelines put in place previously have reduced transmission in restaurants and retail settings, but people are letting down their guard in homes and workplaces. That would pose a problem at Christmas.
“The measures sometime seem severe to some (and) not enough to others,” Shahab said. “For the holidays, they are significant.
“It is an impossible thing to say you can’t meet your close friends and family over the holidays. But I think what I would like to say is that we have to reimagine the holidays, just like we did over Easter. We need to stick to our household for the most part but remain connected through other means.
“It is that close social contact indoors that is generating a lot of the transmission we’ve seen over the last three or four weeks.”
The public health orders for licensed establishments, sport, fitness and dance locations, and places of worship remain in place, as do mandatory masking requirements.
“There is risk in going to a restaurant but the numbers would prove out that it is far less than hosting people in your own home. I understand what the consequences of what I just said mean to families that want to have their grandparents in to see their grandkids, to see your own parents in their home. This is a Christmas unlike any other that we have been asked to participate in,” Moe said.
The province is encouraging people to work from home if possible and, if shopping for essential items is required, to send only one member of a household to shop.
The government also is discouraging all non-essential interprovincial travel.
“Yes, 2020 has been a very difficult year for all of us but with vaccines on the way — literally — we have every reason to believe that 2021 is going to be so much better,” Moe said.
“The finish line to COVID-19 is in sight, but we do have a few more miles to travel. Let’s stay safe, let’s keep protecting ourselves, let’s keep protecting those around us and we will all reach this finish line together.”
Moe said he has no regrets as to how his government has rolled out restrictions.
“I think by and large, Saskatchewan has managed its way through this COVID pandemic in a very responsible fashion,” Moe said, giving credit to Shahab and the people of Saskatchewan. “We have responded to the increasing numbers in a very ambitious manner.”
NDP responds to new measures
In a media release, NDP Leader Ryan Meili called the government’s handling of the second wave “chaotic.”
“It’s never clear what standards the government is using for decisions, what the next steps will be, or even when those decisions will be made,” Meili said. “This leads to confusion as families are left scrambling to keep each other safe and make ends meet.
“Today’s announcement shows that the government’s half measures announced in November have failed but it’s clear they plan to carry down the path of too little too late.”
Meili pointed out family gatherings have been reduced in size, but people can still meet at restaurants or in a hall. He also suggested the retail measures won’t take effect until after people have been doing their Christmas shopping.
“There is nothing that was announced today that could not have been put in effect weeks earlier, when a targeted circuit breaker could have actually had a tangible impact on the spread of COVID-19 in our communities,” Meili said. “This government’s chaotic, wait-and-see approach has led to lockdown measures that are at once more severe and less effective.”