Moe hopes for holiday visits as Saskatchewan's COVID-19 cases forecast to double

·3 min read

REGINA — Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe isn't committing to a threshold suggested by his chief medical health officer for granting more people the right to gather at Christmas.

Dr. Saqib Shahab said Wednesday that any decision to relax COVID-19 public-health orders would have to consider the risk of infections spiking in the new year.

Shahab said his preference would be for the province to wait until there was an average of 120 new cases daily, or less, before loosening limits on gatherings.

"I wouldn't commit to that," Moe said Thursday.

"We also must understand that we have a holiday season that is upon us. We have put in place a number of measures that do impact our opportunity to see family, possibly in a long-term home, during that holiday season."

Also Thursday, the Saskatchewan Health Authority announced it is planning to divert up to 600 staff to respond to the pandemic, meaning some procedures such as diagnostics will have to be rescheduled.

Moving staff around is meant to brace the health system for a possible influx of hospital patients, including into intensive care. Officials forecast new daily cases hitting about 560 in the next two weeks and hospitalizations doubling.

"It's not a crystal ball," said CEO Scott Livingstone of the data.

"Right now, we know that the 14-day forecasts over the last few weeks have been quite accurate relative to what we're seeing."

Another 259 cases of COVID-19 were reported Thursday, along with one death.

Hospitals were treating 124 patients sick with COVID-19; 24 of them were in intensive care.

Moe said he believes capacity limits on public venues, a ban on team sports and a provincewide mask mandate will start to slow the virus's spread enough so that some of the health orders can be loosened when they come up for renewal in three weeks.

“If we have to make that decision today, it may not be the decision that I would want and that I think many other families across the province would want."

Earlier in the week, the premier said he would like to see a way for more than five people to socialize in a home over Christmas — the current public-health rule — but Thursday mainly focused on relaxing rules for long-term care facilities.

Visits are not allowed in long-term or personal care homes, except for compassionate reasons.

"As we get closer to Dec. 17, and ultimately likely even closer to Christmas, we’ll have the discussion about whether or not there are any opportunities for maybe a visit with full (personal protective) gear in a long-term care facility or not," Moe said.

“I haven’t given up hope.”

Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili said he's concerned the premier's office is putting pressure on the chief medical health officer to do what is politically popular, but not wise for public health.

“People need to think about this. Relaxing long-term care restrictions during a COVID-19 spike, during a time when we’ve got outbreaks — that’s a way to lose a lot of lives," Meili said.

On Thursday, the Saskatchewan Party government also announced the revival of an emergency grant program for small businesses that have been hit by health restrictions

Businesses with fewer than 500 employees can apply to receive a grant of 15 per cent of their monthly sales revenue recorded before the pandemic arrived in March, to a maximum of $5,000.

Eligible businesses are ones that have had to change how they operate to comply with public-health rules. The plan is to get the money to businesses within weeks.

The government expects the program to cost $8 million.

Meili said the the criteria are too narrow and will leave some businesses ineligible.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2020.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press