Saskatchewan has second COVID-19 case; banning gatherings of more than 250

REGINA — The Saskatchewan government followed the lead of other provinces in banning large gatherings Friday, as it announced its second presumptive case of COVID-19.

The province's chief medical health officer said that starting Monday there will be no public gatherings allowed of more than 250 people in the same room and no events of more than 50 people with anyone who has travelled internationally in the past 14 days.

"While these are significant steps that will help limit the transmission of COVID-19, most important is the responsibility that we all have to ensure that we do what we can to reduce the risk to ourselves, reduce the risk to our families and reduce the risk to our communities," Premier Scott Moe told a news conference.

Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province's chief medical health officer, said he believes most people will follow the order restricting the size of events. But there are penalties for those who violate it.

There is no plan to close schools at this point, Shahab said, but the government is monitoring the situation.

The government is also asking anyone who has travelled outside Saskatchewan in the past 14 days or has flu-like symptoms to avoid visiting nursing homes and hospitals.

"Right now our risk is low in terms of ... community transmission. But the risk can ramp up very quickly, as we've seen in other jurisdictions. And what we do today can minimize the risk ramping up quickly," said Shahab.

"Most of us, over the course of the next year or two, will get exposed to COVID-19."

The Ministry of Health said the second COVID-19 case involves a person in their 60s who tested positive in Saskatoon after travelling from Oregon. The person is isolating at home.

On top of the new measures announced, Moe encouraged people to practise social distancing.

"If you do have to go to the grocery store and it is a large grocery store ... maybe take some wipes and wipe the handle of the shopping cart down."

The government says a little more than 300 tests have been done and it's prioritizing them for people who have recently travelled and those they have had close contact.

Moe said that as the number of cases rises, there will be more pressure on the health-care system, but people should be confident officials can handle it.

The government will table its budget next week as planned, the premier added, but without invited guests. Public access to the legislature will be suspended.

International travel for government employees on work business, including to the United States, is now prohibited and any out-of-province travel for work will be subject to approval.

Health Minister Jim Reiter said the province has doubled the capacity of its 811 health phone line. The government also plans to open assessment sites in the coming days.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on March 13, 2020

The Canadian Press