Expert says it is only a matter of time before Sask. needs further COVID-19 restrictions

·3 min read
Dr. Alex Wong, a Saskatchewan-based infectious disease physician, speaks with CBC by video chat on March 31, 2021.  (Alexander Quon/CBC News - image credit)
Dr. Alex Wong, a Saskatchewan-based infectious disease physician, speaks with CBC by video chat on March 31, 2021. (Alexander Quon/CBC News - image credit)

Health professionals and the official Opposition have pushed back on Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe's decision not to enact more restrictive health orders and instead rely on vaccinations to halt the spread of COVID-19.

At a news conference on Tuesday, Moe declined to implement new restrictions in the province, saying health orders were, "nothing more than a stopgap to buy us time until we get the majority of Saskatchewan residents vaccinated."

Dr. Alex Wong, an infectious disease physician, told CBC on Wednesday that the province's decision to not implement restrictions isn't necessarily wrong, but that it could have consequences.

"I think everybody agrees that it's an important goal not to have our health-care system be overrun. And right now, there is certainly strain ... there's a lot of stress, but we don't know whether or not this approach is going to be enough." Wong said.

"The internal modelling from the SHA [Saskatchewan Health Authority] I think has been sort of distributed pretty widely, which would suggest that vaccines alone, without additional measures at a provincial level, will probably not ultimately be sufficient."

Wong said the virulent nature of COVID-19 means that the virus is likely to continue to spread and that it would be naive to believe that areas such as Saskatoon or other major centres would be spared from a jump in cases.

"Realistically, sometime in the next couple of weeks I would imagine that we would see a significant uptick [of cases] in Saskatoon," said Wong.

"It wouldn't be surprising to me at some point in the next few weeks if we saw similar restrictions that we see here in Regina currently being implemented in Saskatoon. It's just, I think, truly a matter of time."

Wong said the province must base its decisions on its priorities. Those could include a focus on ensuring that the health-care system is not overrun, or to save as many lives as possible, or on trying to keep normal life going as much as possible.

Dr. Kevin Wasko, the physician executive for SHA's integrated rural health, appeared to criticize the premier's approach to prioritizing vaccinations.

"To be clear: vaccines will not fight the variants of concern. They are part of a necessary public health strategy. They work well. But they aren't an immediate answer," Wasko wrote in a tweet on Tuesday.

'It's unbelievable'

NDP Leader Ryan Meili also sounded off on Moe's decision.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Meili said the premier's decision indicated he was "hellbent on leading Canada in the third wave."

"It's dangerous and it's stupid and it's unbelievable he continues to act in this way despite people dying on his watch. It's further proof this man is not fit for this job," he said.

The push-back came as Saskatchewan reported 191 new cases of the novel coronavirus and two new deaths on Wednesday.

There are now 1,673 confirmed variant of concern cases in the province, with 166 people in hospital due to the virus, 23 of them in ICUs.