'Virtually no benefit': Saskatchewan premier says COVID-19 lockdowns harm communities

·3 min read

REGINA — Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says he will not impose additional measures to try to limit the spread of COVID-19 despite the province bracing for increased pressure on health care due to the Omicron variant.

"Lockdown policies can cause harm in our communities often with little or virtually no benefit," Moe said during a briefing Wednesday.

He added that he's not criticizing other provinces, but said Saskatchewan will take a different approach.

"(Lockdowns) cause economic harm by taking away jobs and removing family livelihoods. They have psychological harm by taking away social contact, most particularly for our youth, and they're an infringement on the rights and freedoms that we have come to enjoy and value as Canadians," Moe said.

"That's why they should be used only when necessary and if they can clearly be shown they are being effective and they are working. We're not seeing that as being the case today."

The government is relying on vaccinations and people to voluntarily change their behaviour to minimize Omicron's impact.

"This change alone can reduce our transmission by up to 50 per cent so we should never underestimate our individual actions on the impact of our transmission rate," said chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab.

He estimates one in every 100 people in the province has Omicron and is transmitting it without knowing it. It will be one in 50 people by next week and one in 25 within two weeks, he said.

"It's no one's fault, but it's highly transmissible," said Shahab, who added that people need to avoid all non-essential gatherings outside of work and school for the next four weeks.

While ruling out further measures and a "vax tax" on those not vaccinated, the province did extend its public health orders, which were to expire at the end of the month.

Mandatory masking in all indoor public spaces, mandatory self-isolation for a positive COVID-19 test, and proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter some venues and businesses are to continue until the end of February.

Saskatchewan is the only jurisdiction in Canada without restrictions on gathering sizes. The Opposition NDP and the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation have both called for the measure.

On Wednesday, the province reported a test positivity rate of 30 per cent. There were 121 people in hospital with COVID-19, including nine in intensive care.

Cases and hospitalizations are expected to rise, said Shahab.

He said it's important to keep case numbers as low as possible, and one way to do that is to limit interprovincial travel.

"If we can keep it from coming to the province all at once, that's going to relieve pressure on hospitalizations," said Shahab.

"We have to sit and watch very closely and other mitigating measures still may be required."

The Saskatchewan Health Authority, bracing for a staff shortage and a rise in acute-care hospitalizations,plans to release a plan for hospitals on Thursday.

Moe said up to 15 per cent of provincial health-care workers could get sick in the coming weeks and be out of the workforce for at least five days to self-isolate.

"The sheer number is going to stress and challenge the services we provide in our communities, and that includes education and the health-care sector."

Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili said Moe is showing a lack of leadership.

"It's ironic when the premier is trying to tell us things are going fine, they've got this under control, it's not going to be a big deal," Meili said. "Yet he's also planning to roll out a surge plan. It's mixed messaging loud and clear once again."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2022.

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

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