Sask.'s top doctor 'has no game plan' for COVID, says former CEO of Saskatoon's vaccine lab

·3 min read
Saskatchewan Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab is pictured at a COVID-19 news conference in Regina in October. Shahab has been sharply criticized by Andrew Potter, former CEO of Vido-InterVac. (CBC News - image credit)
Saskatchewan Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab is pictured at a COVID-19 news conference in Regina in October. Shahab has been sharply criticized by Andrew Potter, former CEO of Vido-InterVac. (CBC News - image credit)

The former CEO of a Saskatoon lab that develops vaccines, including one for COVID-19, says Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer has no game plan for dealing with the novel coronavirus.

Andrew Potter, who worked at VIDO-InterVac for 22 years, first made the comment on Twitter following Tuesday's provincial update on COVID-19.

"I must admit that I think Dr Shahab is way over his head with COVID based on what he has said so far at the press conference," the University of Saskatchewan professor tweeted Tuesday. "He dwells on the past and present but no game plan for the future (which is what counts right now)."

In an interview with CBC News on Wednesday, Potter said he hadn't "seen any evidence yet that they're taking this seriousIy.

"I recognize that there are medical decisions and recommendations and then there are political ones. And he doesn't control the political ones obviously."

The Ministry of Health did not respond to a request for comment before publication.

Potter said the government needs to communicate better with the public. He said the province has to stop comparing current cases with past waves — especially since the third wave involves coronavirus variants which are more transmissible.

"Nobody's looking into the future as to where do we want to be and how we're going to get there," Potter said.

"Right now, we're essentially repeating history that we know didn't work."

Andrew Potter, former CEO of VIDO-InterVac, is now a professor at the University of Saskatchewan.
Andrew Potter, former CEO of VIDO-InterVac, is now a professor at the University of Saskatchewan. (Andrew Potter)

Variant cases erupting across province

On Tuesday, Saskatchewan implemented a province-wide ban on private indoor gatherings while limiting crowds at places of worship to 30 people.

Nazeem Muhajarine, a Saskatoon-based epidemiologist, said "it's a bit too little, too late."

"We are going back to what should have been done on March 9 when public health measures were relaxed on that day," Muhajarine said on CBC's Saskatoon Morning.

When the province allowed residents to expand their bubbles to a maximum of ten individuals in a home at any one time, Saskatchewan had 35 coronavirus variant cases.

"And in the intervening five weeks, numbers increased a hundredfold."

As of Thursday, Saskatchewan reported 4,183 coronavirus variant cases.

"Expanding the bubbles has really backfired here in Saskatchewan, and especially knowing that the variant was spreading quite aggressively in the province," intensive care specialist Dr. Hassan Masri said.

With variants erupting across the province, Muhajarine said the government is still doing "too little."

"It's almost like, you know, trying to put off a raging house fire with a home fire extinguisher," Muhajarine said.

Call to close bars and restaurants

Masri, who works in intensive care units in Saskatoon, said "the variant is making people really sick."

"We would not be in the situation that Regina is in, but certainly with the rising numbers ... we won't be surprised if that's our fate in the next week or so," Masri said.

Intensive care specialist Dr. Hassan Masri says bars and restaurants in Saskatchewan should be closed.
Intensive care specialist Dr. Hassan Masri says bars and restaurants in Saskatchewan should be closed.(Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

He said further restrictions, like closing bars and restaurants across the province and further reducing gathering sizes at religious institutions, could prevent further strain on the health-care system.

Muhajarine agreed.

"The question can be asked whether these cases, hospitalizations and even deaths could have been averted had timely action been taken," he said.