Regina– A Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 numbers have risen to new heights, New Democratic Party Leader Ryan Meili renewed calls on the government to increase transparency, and take further action.
In particular, Meili wants the provincial government to release previously withheld weekly COVID-19 modelling data and “to commit to open and transparent information on hospitalizations, testing, and vaccine delivery,” according to the press release.
“This isn’t going well. We need to be honest about that,” Meili said, speaking to reporters in the Legislature on Jan. 12.
He made the announcement a few hours before the province announced that current public health orders put in place on Dec. 17, 2020, will remain in effect until Jan. 29.
Meili said, “It seems almost unthinkable that we would be in this situation today, 10 months after the first case, arrived in Saskatchewan, and having learned so much, having been able to watch other jurisdictions act differently. All that we've gone through, all that Saskatchewan people sacrificed to keep each other, and themselves, safe. People are tired. I'm tired. People are sad, and they're frustrated; frustrated of being asked to continue sacrificing, without a clear sense from this government, where it is we're going.
“We need a commitment from this government that they’re going to stop hiding information from the people of Saskatchewan. COVID-19 isn’t like their budget numbers that they can just play a shell game with,” said Meili. “This is people’s livelihoods and their actual lives. People are dying. They have a duty to be open and honest.”
Meili reiterated points he has been making for months now, in particular, that a “circuit breaker” would have made a difference in November.
“We called for smaller classroom sizes, and a targeted, short-term circuit breaker to avoid being in this situation. If we had taken those actions in November, you'd be telling a very different story, today, in January. This government's failure to take the right actions at the right time has led us to where we are today. And unfortunately, it appears, things will get worse before they get better.”
Meili said “The data isn’t being made available, and we’re not getting the full story.”
He said governments “try to paint a rosy picture.”
“It's never honest, but in a time like this, a time of crisis, it's not just deceitful, it's dangerous. Trying to pretend we've done a perfect job, that we wouldn't change that trend doesn't just lose people's support, it gets in the way of us doing better.”
“That's why I'm calling on Scott Moe, and his government, to invite Saskatchewan people in and reminding that we were, we are always here to help.”
Meili said modelling updates should be released regularly. He also said the public should know what the trigger points are, in cases per day and rates of transmissions, that would result in further restrictions. “What are the next level of restrictions, if things get worse? Where do we go next?” he posed.
He pointed to the spread in long-term care, corrections and large workplaces.
Asked about the circuit breaker suggestion, Meili responded, “You know, I think the circuit breaker still remains a very real option and a reasonable approach. But again, unless we have that full information and honest description of what's really going on, it’s hard for that circuit breaker to be as intelligent as it should be.”
He pointed to the recent “super spreader” situation with Saskatoon bar Crackers, which had the Ministry of Health on Jan. 11 warning people who may have attended that bar over several days over the New Year to now self-isolate.
“We still have bars open. Is that something we are going to continue to keep bars open, and wind up closing schools? We need to hear from this government that they're going to take the right steps,” Meili said.
He said that it is clear that the current measures are not working. Adjusted for population, Saskatchewan’s daily case counts are comparable to record-breaking numbers of new cases in Ontario and Quebec, jurisdictions which are taking extreme measures to curb the spread of COVID-19.
“We need clear information and clear thresholds for what happens depending on what the data shows,” said Meili. “What happens when we reach 500 cases a day? What happens if it goes higher? Half measures and hope is not a plan, it’s a recipe for failure.”
In addition to the lack of transparency around COVID-19 data modelling, the government has also changed the way hospitalization numbers have been reported and the way tests are counted with no explanation, according to the NDP release.
Additionally, Meili called for regular communication on the impact of COVID-19 on health services such as surgery cancellations, cancer treatment, etc.
The NDP would like to see detailed inspections of all outbreaks in long-term care settings, with a commitment to report publicly on those inspections and take action on their findings.
The NDP also called for detailed information on vaccination efforts, both in terms of geography and which cohorts are to receive the vaccine in what order, despite daily government press releases providing this information. On Jan. 12, the daily COVID-19 update from the Ministry of Health said, in part, “The next Moderna shipment of 5,400 doses is expected to arrive in Saskatchewan January 14. Five hundred doses will be distributed to the Far North East zone to continue the first doses in the priority sequencing. The remaining 4,900 doses will be distributed as first doses to priority long term and personal care home staff and residents and health care workers in the South East and Central East zones, including the communities of Wadena, Canora and Weyburn.”
Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury