Sask. Opposition, health policy analyst question government Omicron strategy

·4 min read
Saskatchewan Opposition Leader Ryan Meili is calling on the government to respond to the projected increased in Omicron cases with measures around gathering sizes. (Bryan Eneas/CBC - image credit)
Saskatchewan Opposition Leader Ryan Meili is calling on the government to respond to the projected increased in Omicron cases with measures around gathering sizes. (Bryan Eneas/CBC - image credit)

The Saskatchewan Opposition and a health policy analyst are expressing concerns about the provincial government's strategy dealing with the more transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19.

Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab released new modelling on Tuesday, showing that without additional health measures, the province's daily case count will surpass 300 in one month.

The same modelling showed with measures like reduced population mixing, average cases would be lower than 50 per day.

Shahab said the government would not be implementing additional measures to deal with the potential spread of the Omicron variant, instead, it would need to respond to a sudden surge.

Preventing a spike

"As long as it is not impacting the health system, the aim is not to prevent every single case but to keep case numbers manageable and to prevent a sharp sudden spike."

Shahab said he would recommend a 50 per cent reduction in capacity in public places, if a spike happens.

"We obviously can't be in a state of lockdown continuously, at some point we have to emerge from the pandemic and at this point, we have to be proportionate," he said. "We have to be quick, we have to be nimble with Omicron we can't take weeks to make decisions. Decisions have to be made in hours to days once we start seeing a surge."

But Saskatchewan sits on an island in its response to Omicron when compared to all other provinces that have introduced or enhanced measures, specifically related to gathering limits in public and private places.

On Tuesday, B.C. announced no indoor organized gatherings of any size, including weddings, receptions and parties. It closed bars, nightclubs, gyms, fitness centres and dance studios. Concerts, sporting events and movie theatres moved to 50 per cent capacity.

Personal gatherings are limited to the household plus 10 guests or one additional household if it's larger than 10 guests. Everyone in the house must be vaccinated.

Alberta announced on Tuesday it was reducing capacity as well, including at the upcoming World Junior Hockey Tournament and Calgary Flames games.

It also limited social gatherings to no more than 10 adults.

Opposition pushes for gathering limits

Saskatchewan Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said Tuesday's modelling shows: "Saskatchewan is set to face a dramatic spike in hospitalizations and ICU admissions."

Meili said the government has a chance to "get ahead" of the wave.

"There is a shocking disconnect" between what the modelling is showing and the government not implementing additional measures, he said. "It makes zero sense."

Submitted by the Province of Saskatchewan
Submitted by the Province of Saskatchewan

Meili said he would implement capacity and gathering limits that are being introduced in other provinces.

"We're seeing that Omicron surge happen across the country. We know our hospitals are still full from the last wave. We cannot afford to get this wrong."

Meili said the government should release an Omicron road map, which outlines when the government will put measures in place to respond to a rise in cases or hospitalizations.

Health analyst questions government plan

Dennis Kendel, a retired physician and health policy consultant, said other provinces have provided a road map that Saskatchewan could follow.

"If you sit back and wait until the forest is almost consumed by fire to say: 'Now we have to do something.' It's not appropriate. You have to have triggers that are indications that would prompt you to take specific measures."

Kendel said the government has not laid out what would prompt additional action.

"I haven't heard any indication of what actual metrics would prompt the government to act. In the absence of that, I think it's really sort of a crapshoot. It's not a very reassuring situation."

Kendel said given the timing of Christmas, it is unlikely the provincial government will introduce new policies.

"That colloquial phrase that Dr. Shahab mentioned, 20 is plenty. All right, it sounds cute. It runs off the tongue. Quite honestly, in many places, gathering limits are 10, not 20."

Kendel said it is "delusional" to think Saskatchewan will escape what is happening with Omicron spreading in other provinces.

"When we see the provinces that have taken action now, they took action very quickly once their numbers began escalating. The pattern of escalation that we saw in Ontario and Quebec is going to happen here."

Kendel said the premier's position on personal responsibility of people following the advice of the government on gatherings, the use of rapid tests and vaccinations may not work in every corner of Saskatchewan.

"We need to look at the evidence in this province. There are communities of resistance in which in our vaccination rates are incredibly low and so personal responsibility has not worked uniformly."

Kendel said staffing remains an issue in ICUs and the government will not be able to send patients to other provinces as it did in the fall, when it airlifted 27 COVID ICU patients to Ontario.

"If we wait until the ICU is overwhelmed, then people will be subject to triage. We will have to decide which patients get treatment and which don't. That's a very unpleasant thing, but that's literally what the situation could be."

On Tuesday, Shahab expressed concerns over New Year's Eve gatherings, Kendel said, if that is the case, the government has time to institute gathering limits before Dec. 31.

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