Worship services stay capped at 30 people in Regina area over COVID variant concerns

·3 min read

REGINA — Saskatchewan's premier says he has faith in residents to decide for themselves whether it's safe to host people in their homes as more contagious COVID-19 strains are detected in and around the province's capital.

Scott Moe said Tuesday that because more variants have been found in the Regina area, worship services in the city will not be allowed to expand their capacity beyond 30 people.

Starting Friday, religious services elsewhere in the province will be allowed to have up to 150 worshippers or 30 per cent capacity, whichever is less.

The Saskatchewan Party government didn't, however, restore any kind of a ban on household visits for the Regina area, despite advising residents -- especially those 50 and older -- not to mingle with others inside a home.

Up to 10 people are allowed to be inside the same home at once as of last week.

Moe said Tuesday that people should consider risk factors, such as age and vaccination status when deciding whether it's safe for household visits.

"This is where we have faith in all of the people in Saskatchewan and, in particular, we have faith in the families in Regina," he said during a COVID-19 briefing.

"They will make the decision that is best suited to ensuring the safety of them, their family and ultimately those that are close to them."

Dr. Saqib Shahab, chief medical health officer, said most of the new infections being reported in Regina and the surrounding area are from variants.

The health zone that includes Regina and surrounding communities has nearly half of Saskatchewan's 1,292 active COVID-19 infections.

And as of Tuesday, the province reported 66 more confirmed cases of variants mostly in the Regina area.

Health officials said 122 of 136 confirmed variant cases have been in the region, which is also home to 186 of the 210 infections they also believe to be caused by a mutation

So far, the variant most often discovered in Saskatchewan has been the one first detected in the United Kingdom, known as B.1.1.7.

Faced with the rising number of variant cases, Moe defended existing public health measures that restrict capacity on restaurants and retailers as being significant enough to combat the spread.

He said thousands of doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca shot have been diverted to Regina, where residents 64 and younger have been able to get immunized at a drive-thru clinic, which opened Monday.

To date, around 108,000 vaccinations have been done provincewide.

The Ministry of Health said 101 of the 156 new COVID-19 cases reported Tuesday were in the capital area. There were 138 people in hospital with the illness provincewide and 31 were receiving intensive care.

Moe said more people will get some protection against COVID-19 in the next few weeks. He said the best way to reverse the rise in variant cases until there is herd immunity is for people to heed public health advice.

Shahab said returning the Regina area to an economic lockdown would be a last resort that would have unintended consequences.

Earlier on Tuesday, Regina Mayor Sandra Masters urged residents to wear a mask and stay home for the next few weeks, regardless of what the province allows.

"People going to restaurants aren't contracting the virus at the restaurants. That's not the way this is working," she said at a news conference Tuesday.

"They're capturing it at work. People are going to public gatherings. They're going to household gatherings. And then they're walking away and ... spreading it that way.

"And so it's that restriction that we're looking for."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2021

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press