Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says people can expect a conversation "in the coming days and weeks" about a return to "some degree of normal" in the province.
Moe told CKOM radio show host John Gormley on Friday morning that he's been asked by people to justify the province's current slate of COVID-19 public health measures.
"The question I'm fielding now when I talk to folks is, 'Why are we doing this? To what end? Where's the goal line? Where's the finish line?'" Moe said. "They see the premier out there now saying, 'Go get vaccinated to keep yourself [and] those around you safe.'
"And the question I keep hearing is, 'Why? Why would I do that and when are we going to get through this?'"
Moe told Gormley it's important for leaders to begin public conversations on what yardsticks might trigger a return to pre-COVID times.
"I think in the days ahead or the next short while, you can look to the Government of Saskatchewan to start to provide some details around that conversation," he said.
In the meantime, people need to follow all public health rules "until we can provide vaccines to the vast majority of people in this province," Moe said.
Vaccination numbers key, Moe says
In a scrum with reporters later Friday morning, Moe declined to provide a timeline for releasing a plan to lift restrictions.
"I won't be able to provide those details at this point because I think this is a conversation that I think will come in the coming days and weeks," Moe said.
When pressed further on timing, Moe said, "As soon as it's possible to safely do it."
Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, said last week that the province would not likely be in a position to remove the current broad health measures until at least June.
Both Moe and his health minister, Paul Merriman, strongly hinted that Saskatchewan vaccination numbers would factor into conversations about easing restrictions.
Moe said his government is looking at other jurisdictions "where they had certain vaccination levels where [they saw] a decrease in daily case numbers, hospitalizations and ultimately a falling off and hopefully ending of fatalities."
Vaccinations are "the first metric that is really going to change things in this province," he added, while cautioning that "this is the early days of that conversation."
Merriman was then asked about Moe's statements about a return to normal.
"The [two] biggest things is we need vaccines and we need people to go get them," Merriman said. "Once we can get vaccines into people's arms, then we start looking at what is it beyond COVID and beyond restrictions."
Both men's pronouncements came a day after Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) physicians meeting during a weekly virtual town hall reported that, if the current trajectory holds, the province's health system will be overrun with COVID-19 patients.
Moe and Merriman said that overall hospitalization numbers have stabilized in recent days but at a worryingly high level, especially in Regina. The health authority was holding a news conference later Friday afternoon to address its bed capacity.
Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili said the government and the SHA are clearly not on the same page.
"We keep hearing two stories in this pandemic," Meili said in the legislative assembly. "What the premier and his health minister tell the public, and what the Saskatchewan Health Authority tells the doctors working on the front lines.
"Last night the health minister tried to tell us that everything is fine in the province's ICUs. At the very same time, doctors in this province were told that we have the highest rate of ICU admissions in the entire country.
"Who's telling the truth — the minister or the SHA?"