Saskatchewan is changing its self-isolation and close contact protocols. Starting Friday, residents who test positive for COVID-19 on a PCR or rapid antigen test will have to self-isolate for five days, regardless of vaccination status.
Previously, those not fully vaccinated had to self-isolate for 10 days.
In addition, as of Friday, if you're a close contact you will not have to self-isolate — also regardless of vaccination status.
"The Omicron variant continues to spread resulting in high case numbers. However, a significantly lower number of cases are resulting in serious outcomes compared to previous waves," Health Minister Paul Merriman said at a news conference Thursday.
Parents and caregivers will no longer be required to notify schools about positive test results for the purposes of close contact notification. But students will have to stay home for their entire isolation period.
Saskatchewan's current public health orders, which include mandatory indoor masking and proof of vaccination and negative test requirements, will stay in place until the end of February.
Dr. Saqib Shahab, the provincial chief medical health officer, says getting vaccinated, including getting a booster shot, will be key to managing the pandemic going forward.
The provincial rate of people 18 and older who have received third doses is 47.79 per cent, according to the CBC's vaccine tracker. Saskatchewan trails behind Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Northwest Territories and Yukon.
'Series of disappointments'
NDP Leader Ryan Meili says the government's decisions during the Omicron wave have been a "series of disappointments."
"Scott Moe and his choices are actively working to spread Omicron," Meili said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.
Dr. Alex Wong, an infectious disease specialist based in Regina, said removing the notification of cases in schools, removing the requirement for close contacts to self-isolate and reducing the self-isolation period are all steps which are being introduced too soon.
"We sort of have to figure out what the new normal will look like, every jurisdiction in the world is thinking about this and what it's going to look like … that being said, the conflict for me is that we're right in the middle of our Omicron surge right now," Wong told CBC News.
Watch Dr. Wong speaking about the relaxed restrictions here:
COVID-19 related hospitalizations in Saskatchewan have reached a level not seen since the peak of the fourth wave in the province and so far, there's no indication that they're slowing down.
Wong said relaxing isolation protocols and not informing schools of COVID cases "facilitates the spread of the virus."
"I just wish we could've waited a few additional weeks," Wong said.