Sask. doctors push for tweaks to COVID-19 restrictions, stronger enforcement

·3 min read

A Saskatoon intensive care unit doctor doesn't think the province needs more COVID-19 restrictions — just a few tweaks and better enforcement of those already in place.

"I agree with [Saskatchewan Chief Medical Health Officer] Dr. Saqib Shahab that these restrictions, if everybody followed them, would be sufficient. But the reality is not everyone is following them," Dr. Hassan Masri said.

In November, the provincial government issued an order that all bars must stop serving alcohol by 10 p.m. and be closed by 11 p.m.

Masri noted flouting the rules creates real consequences — from difficulties in contact tracing to a shortage of hospital beds.

That's why he's calling on the government to close all bars, pubs and nightclubs to curb that temptation to break the restrictions.

"Those places are there for social interaction and physical interaction. It is virtually impossible to have a bar or a pub open and ask people to be alone or be away from everyone. That defeats the whole purpose of going to these places," Masri explained.

Should the government not adjust these restrictions, he said, there needs to be a stronger push for people to follow them.

"The current restrictions are not being enforced to the fullest of the law and it makes people more likely to break the law," he said. "It really makes the laws themselves really ineffective."

On Tuesday, Premier Scott Moe said it's time to take action against those breaking the law.

"We don't need to punish all of those that are following the public health orders, but to those establishments and even all those people who are flagrantly operating outside of what the public health orders are, they do need to be punished," the premier said during a provincial COVID-19 update on Tuesday.

He said he's asked public health if there are other enforcement options, in addition to fines, that could include "closing these bad actors indefinitely to ensure that we are having compliance in our communities."

That would allow the opportunity for the businesses that are following public health orders to stay open and operate safely, Moe said.

Set thresholds for restrictions: psychiatrist

Saskatoon psychiatrist Dr. Tamara Hinz agrees that more enforcement of public health orders is needed.

"I know I'm not supposed to text while I drive, but we still have police officers watching out for that kind of thing," she said. "We can't have a conversation about rule compliance without enforcement."

Hinz said it would help if people start thinking of the pandemic as a group effort.

"People have to come together to work together," she said. "If we have large segments of the population that are not carrying their weight on the project, then the rest of us suffer."

Hinz noted one way the province could get more compliance with COVID-19 measures is to be more transparent about thresholds, and identifying a specific mark for the number of cases that must be reached before restrictions would either loosen or tighten.

"I think transparency from our health and government leaders could go a long way," she said. "Rules need to be straightforward, they have to make sense to people — and they need to be clearly laid out by people who are leading by example."

More public awareness campaigns about COVID-19 — especially featuring those most impacted by the illness — could also be effective, Hinz added, noting it may help "personalize the crisis and unify us."

In a worst-case scenario, Masri said the rule breakers could send the province spiralling into an unwanted lockdown.

"Regardless of what people want and don't want, if the numbers continue to rise to the point that it's unmanageable, a full lockdown will take place," he said.

"I've never advocated for that, but I've always been very clear that the virus will advocate for itself if we don't listen very clearly."