Epidemiology prof calls Sask. COVID-19 'slow down' an untested strategy
REGINA -- Saskatchewan is choosing to slow down rather than lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Starting Thursday, masks are mandatory province-wide in indoor public spaces, private gatherings are limited to five people and visitations at long-term and personal care homes are suspended.
According to University of Saskatchewan Public Health and Epidemiology Professor Dr. Cory Neudorf, this method is untested.
"We don’t really know how this kind of approach will work, it hasn’t been really tried in exactly this way elsewhere," Neudorf said.
Short lockdowns have been used to flatten the curve in other countries and provinces, including in Saskatchewan early in the pandemic, but Dr. Neudorf said relying on the public to follow lesser restrictions hasn’t.
"We’re social beings and it’s difficult to do that without clear mandates in place like we saw in March and April," he said.
With private gatherings now reduced to five people, the Premier encouraged residents to get together at restaurants and bars if necessary, which is something Dr. Neudorf doesn’t believe will limit the spread.
"Those settings don’t seem to be any different than a household setting, plus you’re adding in the variable of having other groups in the same room now as well," he said.
NDP Leader Ryan Meili called that suggestion from the Premier ridiculous.
"Telling people they can’t gather at home so they should go to a restaurant and gather in larger numbers, if he thinks that’s the right advice, he’s really, really in over his head," Meili said during Wednesday’s press conference.
The opposition NDP believes the new round of restrictions fall short and is calling on the Sask. Party government to implement a three-week "circuit breaker" lockdown.
"Right now we need leadership, we need the Premier to make the tough calls and help the people of Saskatchewan get through this together," Meili said.
The NDP’s lockdown proposal would include closing non-essential businesses, moving retail, restaurants and bars to pickup and delivery, limiting essential businesses to 25 per cent capacity and closing gyms, bingo halls and casinos.
Schools would remain open at level three.
"We understand the challenges this will pose for businesses and their employees, that’s why the government must act swiftly to make sure that financial supports are in place, easily accessible and rapidly delivered," Meili said.
The NDP would like to see the Saskatchewan Small Business Emergency Payment Program brought back to support businesses during the lockdown. Also provide small business innovation grants to help businesses looking to transition to online retailing and delivery.
The province says it’s confident in its balanced and cautious approach.
"The NDP is calling for a wide-scale, province-wide shutdown that would put thousands of people out of work," Health Minister Paul Merriman said in a statement.
"This is exactly what we are trying to avoid through the measures announced in recent days."
The Provincial Government is meeting with hospitality, faith and recreation representatives this week to determine what further measures could be taken in those areas to get the spread under control and avoid a lockdown.