'Hang tight': Sask. premier hints at lifting restrictions as soon as next week
REGINA -- Lighter COVID-19 restrictions could be just days away for Saskatchewan residents as Premier Scott Moe asked everyone to “hang tight for just a few more days” during the province’s COVID-19 update on Tuesday.
“We should have more to say about household restrictions, possibly by early next week. We'll be taking a close look at all of the other public health orders that are set to expire on March 19,” said Moe.
Moe said he has frequent discussions about lifting restrictions with the province’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab.
Though discussions are still ongoing, the premier said there may be an opportunity to widen household bubbles and then move to a “less restrictive environment.”
Health officials in B.C. announced Monday that the province was extending the time between first and second vaccine doses to four months, citing international and Canadian research that supports the extension.
Dr. Shahab said the province is working “very closely” with federal partners and waiting on recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization, which he thinks will support delaying the second dose to four months.
“That will really accelerate our first dose program. If we are able to do that, we can see most of our population 18 and older potentially getting the first dose by June. And I think that would really help us in putting the pandemic behind us,” said Dr. Shahab.
Moe said extending the window between the first and second dose “has the ability to really change the dates on where we start to have some very serious discussions about taking some very serious strides to getting life back to normal.”
Dr. Shahab said there are three key metrics he takes into account when considering looser restrictions: case numbers trending down, high testing rates and contract tracing, and a decrease in hospitalizations.
COVID-19 cases in the province have been steadily trending downwards since the beginning of the year. The seven-day average for daily new cases peaked on Jan. 12 with 321 and has since dropped down to 144 as of Tuesday.
Active cases have also decreased to 1,492 since hitting 4,265 on Jan. 18. However, Saskatchewan still has the highest rate of active cases in the country, with 132 per 100,000 people.
According to Dr. Shahab, there are about 11.8 cases per 100,000 people in the province. He would like to see them continue trending downwards to “preferably below 10 and ideally below five.”
Dr. Shahab said contact tracing and testing continues to be an “offensive strategy.” He encouraged people to get a test and self isolate as soon as they experience symptoms.
The top doctor said it is “reassuring” to see fewer hospitalizations as it has lifted the strain on the health care system.
“For some weeks now, that pressure is not there on acute care. The acute care system can focus on all the other urgent and elective health care needs,” said Dr. Shahab.
Dr. Shahab added a fourth metric he is considering is the vaccination rate among vulnerable populations.
“We already have the most vulnerable vaccinate whether it be at least one dose. Three weeks out of one dose, you start getting good protection,” said Dr. Shabab.
“The truth is that the vaccines are working,” said Moe. “They are reducing transmission. They are reducing serious outcomes. And that's very encouraging for all of us.”
The province’s current public health measures are set to expire Mar. 19.