Easing of Sask. COVID-19 restrictions sows public confusion, premier defends decision

Premier Scott Moe and Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab.  (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Premier Scott Moe and Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press - image credit)

Saskatchewan's premier is defending the decision to ease public health restrictions as the number of known cases of COVID-19 variants rises in the province.

On Tuesday, Saskatchewan announced households can create a bubble of up to 10 people for indoor gatherings, citing a recent overall decline of known active cases.

Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab cautioned that only those in need of social support should create bubbles.

"For those people who don't need that right now, this is not the time to start having your bubble expand," Shahab said during Tuesday's provincial update on COVID-19.

"For most of us, we should not change anything, and if anything, we should pay more attention."

Shahab's advice has sparked people to express confusion on social media.

Premier says he's comfortable with province's trajectory

Moe told CBC's Saskatoon Morning that the easing of restrictions "was a good day and really a pivot to what will be better days ahead."

The premier said the arrival of more COVID-19 vaccine doses is one reason the province is able to relax restrictions.

"I'm comfortable with the trajectory that the Saskatchewan numbers are heading on and where they continue to go. I'm comfortable with the number of vaccines that we have received thus far and also are going to receive in the next couple of weeks," Moe said.

To date, about six per cent of Saskatchewan residents have received their first shot. Shahab said it takes up to three weeks to develop effective immunity against the virus.

Saskatchewan continues to have the highest rate of active cases per capita across Canada.

As of publication time, the province has 120 cases per 100,000 people, compared to the national average of 79 cases per 100,000 people.

Saskatchewan has confirmed 70 known cases of COVID-19 variants, with the majority of them being in Regina.

Shahab said Tuesday that now is the time to "double down" on our measures "to try to delay as much as possible from variants of concern becoming the main strain."

Shahab said the variants are 50 to 70 per cent more transmissible and result in hospitalizations for younger age groups.

"Immunization is coming up, cases are coming down. This is exactly the time we can't let our guard down in the next two months," Shahab said.

'Premature and unwise'

Dr. Dennis Kendel, former registrar of the province's college of physicians and surgeons, criticized the government's approach, calling the decision to ease restrictions "premature and unwise."

"Just because the fields may be snow-free in mid-March doesn't mean you go out and plant crops, because the crops will be at very high risk of freezing when they come up," Kendel said on CBC's Morning Edition.

He said that with case numbers rising in Regina, the province's decision is particularly worrisome.

"If we're going to follow policies that are province-wide, then you have to be sensitive to where the highest risk is," Kendel said.

"Maybe at a minimum, Regina should have been kept under the current controls, even if some other areas were relaxed."