Saskatchewan is maintaining the status quo with its COVID-19 measures.
On Tuesday, the provincial government announced the public health order that took effect Dec. 17 will remain in place until Jan. 29. At that time, it will be reviewed by the province’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab.
The current order was due to expire Friday.
Under the current measures:
- Private indoor gatherings are limited to people who live in the same household;
- Outdoor gatherings are capped at 10 people, provided physical distancing between households can be maintained;
- Casinos and bingo halls must remain closed;
- 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;
- Weddings, funeral ceremonies and worship services are limited to 30 people. Other services can’t occur in multiple locations within one facility; and
- Retail services must limit their capacity to 50 per cent. Large retail outlets — those with a square footage of more than 20,000 — are limited to 25 per cent capacity.
Mandatory masking is still required in indoor public places and non-essential interprovincial travel is discouraged.
The measures were implemented Dec. 14. Some took effect Dec. 17 and others followed on Dec. 25.
Shahab explained during a media conference Tuesday the measures were working — numbers were going down in December — but right now Saskatchewan is seeing the effects from the holidays. Shahab said that was partly predictable.
“It has happened in almost every other province between B.C. and Quebec, that we’re seeing a bit of rebound from the Christmas holidays and seeing where people did not comply with the public health orders,” said Shahab.
He’s urging everyone to go back to when they were being very careful and obeying all the public health orders.
“We have to recognize that unless all of us pull together, COVID comes back with a vengeance, and that’s what we are seeing right now,” said Shahab.
Shahab said if the downward trend from December had continued into January, health officials may have looked at relaxing some of the health measures, but they haven’t seen that.
Premier Scott Moe said he knows people are getting tired of the regulations around COVID, but they’re still important and still need to be followed.
“If we’re not able to start to bend this trajectory down by the end of January, Dr. Shahab may have some more difficult decisions to make,” said Moe.
Moe said residents should all be reflecting on where we are and what’s happening right now, saying we should be thinking about the elderly who are more susceptible to the virus and the kids who aren’t in class and can’t take part in the activities they normally would.
“This is no time for us, as adults, to be making decisions that — quite frankly — are irresponsible and are contributing to the spread through super-spreader events,” said Moe.
During a media conference earlier Tuesday, NDP Leader Ryan Meili said the measures put in place before Christmas hadn’t worked. He said sticking with the status quo wouldn’t be effective, either.
“That would be really unwise,” Meili said. “It’s clear that the current restrictions aren’t successful. Continuing to do something that isn’t working means more people will get sick and more people will die.”
He pointed to the recent caseloads, which included five straight days of at least 300 new cases before 248 cases were reported Tuesday. The five deaths announced Tuesday increased the province’s total over the past week to 39.
“Clearly we should have had that ‘circuit breaker’ (shutdown) in November that would have allowed the number of cases in the community to decrease so that people could have enjoyed more time with each other during Christmas,” Meili said. “That didn’t happen.
“We also heard mixed messages, the premier talking about, ‘Well, maybe we can open up for Christmas.’ One day to the next, we heard a different story. We heard him telling people to not gather at home but meet at restaurants with their families. The mixed messages really made it hard.”
Meili said it was “unthinkable” that Saskatchewan finds itself in its current situation, given the amount everyone has learned about the virus and how much the provincial government could have gleaned from watching how other jurisdictions handled the pandemic.
He called on Moe to be more open with the government’s plans for handling COVID in the future.
“We’re on a difficult journey together and the premier is behind the wheel, but he isn’t telling us where we’re going,” Meili said. “We need to all be able to see the roadmap for the days ahead. We need a commitment from this government that they’ll stop keeping information back from Saskatchewan people.
“When people don’t know what’s happening, it’s more frightening. It also breeds skepticism and resistance to the necessary measures. It makes us less safe.”