It’s beginning to look like COVID-19 restrictions will be lifted in Saskatchewan over the next few months thanks to COVID-19 vaccines.
The provincial government has announced benchmarks in which they will be able to open the economy. Each step will require three weeks to pass after a vaccination threshold has been met to ensure the COVID vaccine is effective.
The first step of the Re-Opening Roadmap requires 70 per cent of residents over the age of 40 to receive at least one dose. Currently, that stands at 65 per cent.
Step two requires 70 per cent of residents over 30 to receive at least one dose, while the final step would see 70 per cent of residents over 18 get vaccinated.
Some of the highlights in step one would see restaurants allow up to six people at one table, up to 10 people can take part in private, indoor, outdoor and household gatherings, 30 people would be able to take part in public indoor gatherings and 150 people could publicly gather outdoors.
Step two could see capacity thresholds on retail and personal care services lifted while physical distancing remains in place, no table capacity at restaurants and bars, 150-person maximum at casinos, bingo halls, theatres, libraries and recreation facilities and indoor private gathering limits increase to 15. As well, restrictions on youth and adult sports would be lifted.
Step three would see most of the remaining restrictions lifted, but guidance on gathering sizes and indoor masking is still being developed. The public health orders from step two would remain in effect if step three’s guidelines are not set in time.
When it comes to vaccine hesitancy, Premier Scott Moe says it’s time for people to get off the fence and get vaccinated.
“Every day across Canada, in this province and around the world, vaccines are saving people’s lives,” Moe said. “Countries with high rates of vaccinations are reopening and they’re getting back to normal, and at the same time many countries that have not vaccinated a large number of their population are experiencing a very severe third wave.”
Hospitalization numbers will continue to be monitored during the re-opening. If numbers surge, a re-opening step may be paused to limit COVID-19 transmission.
All of the current public health orders will remain in place until step one is formally announced by the provincial government.
Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab says the higher our vaccine uptake is, the better protected people will be in the summer and fall.
“While the 70 percent threshold is a great point to show us the way, I would certainly endorse as high of a vaccine uptake as we can,” Dr. Shahab said. “I think we should never forget the great privilege we have to be able to get vaccinated with a safe and effective vaccine in Saskatchewan.”
According to the provincial government, if the current pace of vaccinations holds, Saskatchewan could enter Step One in the last week of May. Step two could be reached in the third week of June and step three could also be achieved in the middle of July. The province also stresses the timeline is just an estimation at this time.
Moe says everyone over the age of 18 will have access to at least one dose by the time Phase one begins.
“When you look at phase one of the plan, it is a very cautious and measured step, it is not a large step towards reopening in any way,” Moe said. “The second phase would be a much larger step that will happen some time in June — when we have an even higher vaccination rate than what we do here today.”
By then, people will then be able to either book or receive their second dose of the COVID vaccine.
Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone says getting second doses out to the public will be a much faster process.
“We will escalate second doses very quickly afterwards, and ensuring that we have people with their second doses well within that 16-week period of time, so not everyone will wait 16 weeks,” Livingstone said. “As we get through that first doses near the end of May, (we will) start those second doses for the first individuals that received their vaccines.
“We will be escalating the vaccine program to ensure everyone receives their second dose as soon as possible.”
NDP reaction to recovery plan
The Saskatchewan NDP indicated on Monday that vaccinations should not be the only metric in Tuesday’s recovery plan.
In a written statement from NDP Health Critic Vicki Mowat, she said that it’s concerning vaccination numbers are the focused metric for the government’s strategy.
“Everyone wants this plan to work. But let us be clear: nothing the government does today absolves them of their failure to contain the second and third waves of COVID-19 in our province,” stated Mowat in Tuesday’s release.
“While it’s good that the government is providing some clarity today, the Official Opposition has been asking for clear benchmarks on public health measures for 14 months. We believe that Saskatchewan families deserve to see the modelling and public health advice that has led to this decision.”
Mowat added that vaccination numbers are important, however they do not reveal the full story.
“With Alberta imposing further restrictions today, we need to keep a close eye on case counts, test positivity, hospitalizations and other public health indicators to guide our steps forward.”
(With files from Moises Canales)