La Loche halts liquor sales as it tries to get handle on COVID-19 outbreak

La Loche halts liquor sales as it tries to get handle on COVID-19 outbreak

The northern village of La Loche has shuttered its provincial and offsale liquor stores temporarily as the community tries to get a handle on an outbreak of COVID-19 spreading through Saskatchewan's north.

Officials with the Saskatchewan Health Authority have said the fact people are still gathering and drinking together has contributed to the spread of the outbreak.

On Friday, La Loche Mayor Robert St. Pierre made the request to close the liquor stores.

On Saturday morning, La Loche's SLGA store and the town's offsale were closed. The facilities will remain closed for the next two weeks.

"The La Loche Liquor Store will be closed until further notice," said a sign posted to the provincially run SLGA location's door.

The northern Saskatchewan community is the epicentre of an outbreak in Saskatchewan's far north region, which accounted for 148 of the province's 203 active cases as of Friday. Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province's chief medical health officer, said most cases in the north are among youth and younger adults.

St. Pierre said the closures are about limiting the spread of the virus in the community.

"When you have those particular venues open, it promotes coming together, it promotes people gathering," he said. "We're trying to eliminate those opportunities and I'm hoping with the closure of these two facilities that we mitigate the connection that could be made there, or the passing of the virus."

Leadership in the community hopes the closure of these facilities may also prevent the spread of COVID-19 through younger people in the community, St. Pierre said. Officials have said in the past the majority of cases are in youth or young adults.

"At this time, as our numbers were increasing, it became to clear to leadership that this was the direction we needed to move," St. Pierre said, and the province "fast-tracked" the closure.

A checkpoint established outside of the community will ensure the closures are effective, he said, adding it would be pointless to close the stores if people elsewhere in the region can bring alcohol into the community.

St.Pierre says there is already a plan in place for those who live in La Loche who are dependent on alcohol or are dealing with substance abuse issues, noting the community has already started registering those who need alcohol to ensure they're supported and "not forgotten" during the store closures.

CBC Saskatchewan reached out to the provincial government for comment on the closure on Saturday morning, but a response was not immediately received.