Regina– The days of isolation are over, for now, as Saskatchewan residents can now again have “bubbles” of up to three household, comprising of up to 10 people.
The province’s seven-day average of new cases of COVID-19 is down to 141, the lowest level in nearly four months, and down 60 per cent from the peak experienced in January, Premier Scott Moe said. Hospitalizations remain stable at 139, and the vaccine program is picking up steam. This is allowing the province to “cautiously relax some of the public health orders that we have in place,” Moe said.
“Today, I’m very pleased to announce that, effective immediately, you can expand your household bubble to include up to three households and up to 10 people.”
Moe made the announcement with some relief on March 9 during the regular COVID-19 briefing in the Legislature, where he was flanked by Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab. He has been indicating for some time now a desire to relax household visitation restrictions.
Moe also provided more clarity on when each age group can expect to begin vaccinations.
“Between Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca, now we now expect to receive about 124,000 more doses by the end of March. That's more doses, in the next three weeks, than we have received in the first three months of our vaccinations,” Moe said.
“Now that we are delaying the second dose to ensure that everyone can get their first dose more quickly, it also means that we should be done Phase 1 and ready to start Phase 2 early in April.
“This will be a very important milestone, because it will mean everyone aged 70 and above, will have had their chance to get their first shot by early in April. This should significantly reduce the number of serious cases, as well as hospitalizations.
“Based on the number of vaccines we now expect to receive, we should be able to begin vaccinating people in the 60s by April the 5th, people in their 50s by April the 19th, people in their 40s by May the 10th, people are in their 30s by May the 31st, and all other adults should be able to start vaccinating, everyone else by June the 14th.
“Now that the vaccine supply is significantly increasing, we will soon be launching the website, and the toll-free number allows Saskatchewan residents to book your own appointment online, or over the phone, when appointments open up to your age group, when is your turn. This is the most important thing that we can do to protect ourselves, to protect those around us, is to make this appointment, particularly in light of the increased presence of variants in Saskatchewan.”
He added, “So when it's your turn. I urge you to make an appointment to get the shot.”
The first 15,500 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine have arrived, and since Regina has had higher case counts, they will be used in a drive-thru location in Regina for people aged 60 to 64.
Moe also expressed hope for activities to begin returning to normal. He said, “While we have no target date, just yet, work is actively underway with our organizations and associations, who operate seasonal activities, sports and recreational activities in our communities, so they can prepare for their spring seasons and the potential of programming. We'll be working with our partners in these sectors to ensure their spring and summer seasons are up and running and normal and profitable, but also up and running as safely as possible, Saskatchewan continues to see our key threats and hospitalization rates stabilize.”
As the pace of vaccinations increases, he said “we will be actively looking at loosening restrictions in these areas as well as some others in the next number of weeks. We all want life to return to normal, as quickly as possible, but we still have to proceed with caution.”
Shahab spoke of “growing optimism on our accelerated vaccine delivery schedule.”
He said it is still best to do as much as possible outdoors when interacting with people.
Shahab said there is light at the end of the tunnel. “It’s few weeks before all of us will get vaccinated, 18 and older, but we need to stay the course, as much as possible, to keep our overall numbers down, until all of us are vaccinated.”
Worship services will also be partially opened up, effective March 19. Worship services will be permitted with up to 30 per cent of capacity or 150 attendees, whichever is the lesser. All existing public health guidance remains in effect. Attendees must maintain two metres of physical distancing unless they are part of the same household group. All masking protocols remain in place. All attendees and choirs/performers must be masked throughout the service. Only clergy may remove their mask while officiating but must maintain three metres physical distance from all other attendees while mask is removed. No food or drink may be served.
These guidelines do not apply to receptions or non-ceremonial gatherings.
Asked about weddings and funerals, Shahab said, “At this point, all of that is being reviewed,” but he did not give a definitive answer. He said ceremonies have slightly different interactions, and they have to be closely looked at. He noted “Superspreader events, in almost all cases, have happened in the bar or place of worship, or other settings, where there has been flagrant, non-observance of guidelines by the organizers and attendees.”
At the end of the day, not everything can be legislated, he noted, but physical distancing and masks should be followed.
An additional 736 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been given in Saskatchewan, bringing the total number of vaccines administered in the province to 93,512.
The 736 doses of COVID-19 vaccine reported today were administered in the following regions: North West (479), North Central (165) and Saskatoon (92).
Moe said, “One year ago, we were on our way into COVID, and today we are most certainly on our way out. The path out of COVID depends on everyone getting vaccinated when it's your turn.”
Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury