REGINA — The Saskatchewan government is bolstering public health measures as the province faces some of the highest COVID-19 numbers in Canada.
To alleviate pressure on the health-care system, the government says it is reinstating mandatory isolation requirements for people who test positive for COVID-19 and expanding testing and contact tracing.
Unvaccinated residents will also need to self-isolate if they come in contact with a positive case, but fully vaccinated people will not face the same requirement.
Premier Scott Moe said unvaccinated individuals are placing a tremendous strain on the health system, filling intensive care beds and burdening health-care workers.
“That is why today our government is taking a very focused action ... on our vaccine uptake and to ensure that our health-care system has the ability to flex and to respond to facilitate the increased demand that we're now experiencing," Moe said at a news conference Friday.
“We know that these are only interim measures that will increase our health-care capacity in the short term, so we must continue to focus our efforts on increasing the efficacy, availability and the uptake of vaccines.”
In order to expand surge capacity in hospitals, the province said there will be a reduction in non-critical and elective surgeries and procedures. However, they are looking to offset the impact by outsourcing services to smaller facilities.
Moe said some residents might question why the government isn't implementing harsher restrictions or vaccine mandates.
"I've said before restrictions are a stopgap measure. They were always intended to be temporary and they were to get us to a point where vaccines are largely available and accessible — and they are today," he said.
The province said it won't bring in a government-mandated vaccine passport, but Moe noted they are working on a verifiable record of vaccination that will be available later this month.
It is also working on a policy for all Saskatchewan Health Authority employees to show proof of immunization or a negative COVID-19 test.
"Creating two classes of citizens based on your vaccination status is a very difficult, very divisive path for a government to take," he said. "So, in Saskatchewan, it will remain a choice but you need to also fully understand the serious potential consequences for yourself and for our health system if you choose not to."
The province will also offer a third "booster" dose for those who are immunocompromised or in long-term care. The booster shots will also be available for seniors starting in October.
There are now 3,573 active cases in the province — making it the highest rate of cases per capita in the country. A total 190 people are hospitalized for COVID-19, including 39 in intensive care.
Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, stressed the importance of getting immunized as cases climb.
"It is a duty of care to be fully vaccinated," said Shahab.
"If you have children in school and as parents you are unvaccinated, I think you are failing in your duty of care to your community and to your school. If you are visiting friends and family and you are unvaccinated, you are failing in your duty of care to your friends and relatives."
Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili criticized Moe's decision not to bring in additional measures such as an indoor masking mandate, vaccine passports for large events and safety measures for schools.
“We’re doing the worst and the premier is choosing to do the least in response," said Meili. "We have no serious public health orders in place and today that didn’t change.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 10, 2021.
— By Alanna Smith in Calgary
The Canadian Press