Sport, business groups pitch ideas to Sask. government on COVID-19 safe operations

·3 min read

Sports and business groups are looking at new ways to operate safely as COVID-19 numbers spike across the province, but say they aren't yet sure what the government will and won't allow.

Premier Scott Moe, who is currently isolating after a recent possible exposure in the Prince Albert area, said last week he'd be consulting with business, sports and faith leaders. Some say they have spoken with government, but don't know if any new restrictions will be ordered or recommended.

Critics have accused the government of dithering while hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths increase daily, but Moe and Health Minister Paul Merriman say a targeted "slowdown" approach will keep people safe with minimal damage to the economy.

"Every sport was asked last week by the government to come back to the business response team with what they can do more in terms of restrictions," said Kelly McClintock, general manager of the Saskatchewan Hockey Association.

"So I'm assuming there could be some announcements this week in terms of maybe some more restrictions."

McClintock said they looked at where there could be potential spread of the virus and how they could mitigate the risk.

"You know, coaches having to wear masks on the ice during practice, limiting the amount of time in dressing rooms, making sure that the mandatory masks are being worn in dressing rooms.

"Reduce the amount of time that teams are in the dressing room, reduce the amount of that spectators come in."

Health and safety the top priority for sports

Since hockey resumed Oct. 17, a number of leagues have postponed games because of COVID-19 protocols.

McClintock said with all teams playing in small mini-leagues of six or less teams they don't have to shut down the whole league. Many leagues have teams playing back-to-back games on the weekend so if there is a COVID-19 situation they can shut down just those two teams that were affected.

"Everybody knew going in that we would have to be precautionary and have to be flexible," McClintock said.

Rob Kennedy, manager of sport development for Sask Sport, said they don't have an opinion on whether sports should continue or not. He said sports provide a lot of physical and mental health benefits to tens of thousands of kids across the province, but said community health and safety is the top priority.

He said their role is to come up with sport-specific suggestions for making things safer. Some indoor, close contact sports have different levels of risk than distanced outdoor ones.

It's the government health experts and leaders who can best make those final decisions, Kennedy said.

Businesses aim to strike the right balance

Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce CEO Steve McLellan agreed.

He said business owners are working hard to innovate and keep their customers and staff safe. He said the chamber doesn't have a set position on further restrictions, but is confident the government will strike the right balance between fighting the virus and preserving jobs and businesses.

"We need to make sure that we have as many businesses as many jobs available when we come out of COVID as we possibly can, but not keeping businesses open at the cost of our public health," McLellan said.

McLellan said whatever new restrictions are put in place, such as mandatory masks, businesses must make sure to follow them. He said the province will get through the pandemic quicker and healthier working together.