Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says his government will support any business or workplace that requires people to show proof of vaccination or a negative test for COVID-19, but that the government itself will not mandate so-called "vaccine passports."
"It won't be the government that comes out and forces such a policy," he said.
Moe was speaking during a Monday afternoon news conference with chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab — the pair's first joint public appearance in weeks.
Moe described government-mandated vaccine passports — which have been announced in provinces like B.C. and Manitoba — as "heavy handed" and "government telling people exactly what will and won't happen." He said he preferred a more collaborative approach that involves supporting businesses that choose to proceed with their own mandatory vaccination programs.
"I expect that, as we get into indoor events this fall, most leagues, most organizers of large events are going to be working with public health on exactly how can we implement this type of a policy," Moe said.
And as groups like the University of Saskatchewan and the Saskatchewan Roughriders move ahead with plans, "it's going to be increasingly more uncomfortable for you in Saskatchewan to make the choice to not be vaccinated."
According to a news release issued in tandem with Moe's appearance, vaccination documentation is available to anyone who requires it through the one-page printable form from a personal MySaskHealthRecord (MSHR) account at eHealth Saskatchewan.
People can visit MySaskHealthRecord to set up their account account now.
Work is underway to include a digital QR code to the MSHR vaccination record in early fall.
"This will ensure this record meets the standards set by the Government of Canada to help support proof of vaccine for international travel," according to the release.
Moe was asked how the governments expects businesses to effectively enforce the rules of a passport system if it's not backed by a provincial health order.
"If a small business wants to enact this policy, we will provide advice, yes, but they're going to have to obviously provide the resources on how to prevent that entry if they so choose on their own," Moe said. "There will be no special powers given by the government for them to be policemen in their community."
Mandatory vaccinations for health-care workers
Moe also announced that some health-care workers will soon be required to provide proof of vaccination, with more details to be announced in the coming days.
"If these care providers elect not to be fully vaccinated, they will be required to undertake regular COVID-19 testing," according to the news release.
Moe said the province is not returning to widespread restrictions or public health orders because that would be "grossly unfair" to those who have become vaccinated.
"But we need to do more to urge people to get vaccinated," Moe said, noting that the recent rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations, and the fourth wave, is largely due to unvaccinated people.
Shahab said many of people requiring intensive treatment at the hospital are unvaccinated middle-aged people.
Doctors want return to indoor masking, mandatory self-isolation
Moe's appearance came after several leading doctors urged the province to bring in old and new measures to battle the province's fourth wave of COVID-19 — including vaccine passports for some businesses.
In a letter that emerged on social media on Monday morning — just hours before Premier Scott Moe was set to address the public — Dr. Cory Neudorf, an interim senior medical health officer with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, stressed the need for measures including a return to mandated masking in public indoor spaces, and requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test for entry into nightclubs, bars and restaurants.
Neudorf said the measures are needed because the province's low vaccine uptake and the more-transmissible delta variant create greater risk for unvaccinated people, particularly children under the age of 12, and so-called "breakthrough" cases — people who get infected in spite of being fully vaccinated.
The letter was dated Aug. 26, 2021, and was signed by Neudorf on behalf of medical health officers from across the province. It was sent to the provincial Ministry of Health, according to Neudorf.
The letter took aim at recent public messaging launched by the province suggesting that people should learn to "live with COVID."
"Our rates of immunization are not yet high enough to just 'live with COVID,'" the letter said.
Other measures the doctors' letter called for include:
The reinstatement of the requirement for infected people and their close contacts to isolate.
Improvements to ventilation in schools and long-term care homes.
Resumption of ticketing of people who break the rules.
Only the move toward requiring the vaccination of health-care workers was announced on Monday.
Saskatchewan dropped its COVID-19 measures in early July and, "unlike many other provinces, has not indicated a desire to reinstate them as the fourth wave begins," the letter said.
Moe was asked about the disconnect between what doctors want and the comparatively meagre government measures announced on Monday.
"When policies are put forward, and they may seem like sound policies, there also needs to be a certain degree of operational ability or they need to be operable policies as we move along," Moe said. "And this maybe explains some of the reasoning behind working with these organizations that are organizing these larger events, such as the Saskatchewan Roughriders."
Other businesses may struggle to launch a passport system, he added.
"The retail sector is just now starting to recover from COVID-19. They're, quite frankly, having challenges finding enough staff to get up to 100 per cent operations. And so I just don't think there is room or staff available for them to move forward, to have people that are checking for proof of vaccination prior to entry into the various restaurants and retail locations that we have."