REGINA — Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says his government will support local businesses and workplaces that require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test, but won't mandate vaccine passports.
At a news conference Monday, Moe called government-mandated vaccine policies a "heavy-handed" approach and said working collaboratively with those who choose to enact these policies would be successful.
Quebec, British Columbia and Manitoba are the only provinces to announce provincewide vaccine passport systems.
Moe said his government is already working with organizations, such as the Saskatchewan Roughriders football team, to "work out the logistics" of such programs.
"We will do the same with any other teams, leagues, concerts... or large event venues that do choose to move in this direction. We will also support any employers that choose to move in this direction," said Moe, who noted the province is creating a digital QR code that can be used by businesses or venues.
Other large organizations that have introduced vaccine policies are the University of Saskatchewan, Saskatchewan Polytechnic and the University of Regina.
Moe's comments come days after some of the province’s leading doctors — including Cory Neudorf, an interim senior medical health officer with the Saskatchewan Health Authority — called on the government to introduce measures such as mandated masking and vaccine passports for a variety of settings.
"The COVID-19 pandemic is not over yet. We may have won the battle of the third wave and had some respite over the summer, but the war is not yet won," read a letter that was posted on social media.
"Another push is necessary and ignoring it will not make it go away."
Moe said the Ministry of Health and the Saskatchewan Health Authority will, in the coming days, outline a policy to require front-line health workers to provide proof of vaccination.
If employees choose not to receive both doses, he said they would be subject to regular COVID-19 testing.
Starting Sept. 7, the province also plans to offer booster shots to older or immunocompromised people, including residents of long-term care and transplant recipients.
As Moe outlined new policies coming to Saskatchewan, he noted that unvaccinated individuals will find it "increasingly challenging" to participate in events or attend venues.
"You need to know that and you need to know that today because your choice does have an impact on others," he said.
"There are still far too many people in Saskatchewan — just over 300,000 eligible residents — who are not yet fully vaccinated and that's what is driving our fourth wave of COVID in this province."
With 199 new cases of the virus reported Monday, the active case count in Saskatchewan now sits at 2,068. There are 116 patients in hospital, including 30 in intensive care.
Most new cases, hospitalizations and deaths are among unvaccinated individuals, said Moe.
But, even as a fourth wave hits Saskatchewan, Moe said they have no plans to reinstate widespread public health measures.
"That would be grossly unfair to the vast majority of Saskatchewan residents who have made the right decision and who have (gone) out and gotten themselves vaccinated," said Moe.
Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili said Moe’s announcement was a "missed opportunity" and will do little to combat the fourth wave.
"A plan that does not emphasize testing, tracing and enforceable self-isolation for positive COVID-19 cases, vaccine mandates for all large public events, a plan for full vaccination of school and health care staff and appropriate indoor mask mandates, falls far short of what is needed to keep Saskatchewan people safe," Meili said in a statement.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 30, 2021.
— By Alanna Smith in Calgary.
The Canadian Press