Saskatchewan's COVID-19 health measures have been extended to May 10 as health officials announce the number of infected patients under intensive care has hit an all-time high.
As of Tuesday, there were 51 infected patients in ICU, up from the previous high of 47 recorded on April 5 and April 17.
Premier Scott Moe also announced that beginning on Thursday, COVID-19 vaccine appointments will be open to people aged 44 and over. Currently, the age eligibility is set at 48.
"By mid next week, we're going to go down to 40," Moe said.
Once that happens, teachers and other front-line workers will be added to the province's vaccine priority list, he added.
AstraZeneca vaccine now available to people 40 and over
Moe had other news on Tuesday.
The premier said that based on the recommendation of his chief medical health officer, and like other provinces, Saskatchewan is lowering the minimum age requirement for the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine to 40. Previously, only people 55 and over could receive that vaccine.
"In the short term, this isn't going to make much of a difference because Saskatchewan has already used up the bulk of its supply of AstraZeneca doses," Moe said. "What's left is already allocated toward a number of appointments across Saskatchewan."
First cases of P1 variant found in Sask.
Health officials announced 249 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, including the province's first cases of the P1 variant.
That variant was first discovered in Japan, in four travellers who had returned from Brazil. As such, it is often associated with Brazil, where COVID-19 cases and deaths have spiked significantly in recent weeks.
The P1 variant is a mutation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and spreads quicker than the original strain. The P1 variant has the same N501Y mutation that is found in the B117 and B1351 variants, and has been associated with increased transmissibility
Five cases of the variant were detected in Saskatchewan's southwest region.
The specific communities were not cited, in keeping with the province's reporting methods to date.
"At this point, we don't have any linkage to other mass transmission events," said Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer.
Overall, there are a cumulative 5,027 variant cases in the province, spread out in the following regions:
The bulk of the new COVID-19 cases announced each day in Regina, the southern part of the province and, increasingly, Saskatoon, are cases of variants of concern, Shahab said.
There are 195 people in hospital, including the 51 people in ICU. Thirty-five of the patients under intensive care are in Regina.
Moe noted with optimism that the province's seven-day average of new daily cases is trending downward. As of Tuesday, that average stood at 247, or 20.2 new cases per 100,000 people.
Officials are still cautioning against unnecessary travel in all parts of the province.