The leader of the Saskatchewan NDP is calling on the provincial government to shut down all bar service and limit the businesses to takeout only. The call comes in the wake of fines being issues to three bars allegedly not obeying the current public health orders.
On Tuesday, Ryan Meili was asked if he thought Saskatchewan should close bars down and limit them to serving takeout orders.
"It would make perfect sense to close down bars," Meili said. "That's what every other province with serious levels of cases has done, with cases far less than we have. They've done that and that's what we should be doing. We need to look at the places where the transmission is happening the most and where people are at the highest risk."
Earlier on Tuesday, health officials confirmed three bars — Crazy Cactus and Crackers in Saskatoon, along with Stats Cocktails and Dreams in Regina — had been fined $14,000 "for failure to abide by public health orders."
Blue Clegg, who owns Crackers, said in a text on Wednesday that the bar is not fighting its fine.
Health officials provided no details on how the orders were allegedly breached.
Tuesday's announcement marked the first time the province publicly named businesses that had come in the crosshairs of health officials. When a gospel outreach centre in Prince Albert was fined last fall, its name went unmentioned in the government's daily COVID-19 news releases.
"We should be releasing the names of organizations that have received fines like this and we are releasing those now," Premier Scott Moe said about the policy turnabout. "It's our hope that we wouldn't have to release any more."
Meili said "it's fine" that the bars were named and fined, but that the province's overall approach is "confused."
"They're thinking of controlling the virus as though it's a punishment when it is the measures we should take to protect people," he said.
Bar owner says he's not fighting fine
The Saskatchewan Health Authority declared a potential "superspreader event" at Crackers on Jan. 11, though it did not specify what triggered that alert. In a Facebook post at the time, the bar stated customers were exposed to COVID-19 "despite our best efforts."
As of Jan. 20, more than 80 COVID-19 cases were linked to the Crackers outbreak.
The bar's website showed evidence of singing events happening last fall, including a message about sanitizing mics as well as video montages with titles such as "Fall Karaoke League Thursday Halloween 2020" showing some unmasked singers. However, the SHA said shortly after the outbreak was declared that karaoke had not been a risk factor.
The website was more recently updated with a message touting the potential for karaoke sessions to resume this spring.
Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, has said the general public might not start receiving the vaccine until June.