REGINA -- The province of Saskatchewan will begin a five-phase plan to reopen the province next month.

Premier Scott Moe spoke about the plan in his address to the province on Wednesday night.

“Our government takes this decision extremely seriously,” Moe said. “We know there are risks on both sides. If we move too quickly, we risk increasing the spread of COVID-19. If we move too slowly, we risk permanent damage to the livelihoods of thousands of Saskatchewan people.”

The province announced its first COVID-19 case on March 12 and declared a state of emergency on March 18. Moe extended the emergency state on April 1 and again on April 15.

Speaking to Saskatchewan residents, Moe thanked people for following the guidelines and restrictions in place.

“The last few weeks have been difficult for everyone,” he said. “This is not how things are supposed to be.”

He went on to say people have saved lives by staying home.

“Saskatchewan has reduced the spread of COVID-19. We have flattened the curve,” Moe said. “That’s thanks to you. Each and every one of you.”

As of Wednesday, Saskatchewan had 326 total COVID-19 cases and 261 recoveries, for an 80.1 per cent recovery rate. Four people have died from complications related to COVID-19 to date in Saskatchewan.

Plan to reopen economy

Last week, Moe announced he was working with the province’s chief medical health officer on a plan to reopen the economy.

“I believe we can, but only if we proceed with caution,” he said Wednesday.

Moe and Dr. Saqib Shahab will outline the five-phase plan to reopen Saskatchewan on Thursday morning at 10:30 a.m.

“As we proceed with each phase, we will carefully monitor COVID-19 case numbers and adjust the plan as required,” Moe said.

As businesses open their doors, Moe said they will need to follow strict physical distancing and cleaning procedures.

Some restrictions will remain

He also said that many restrictions will remain in place through the reopening process.

“We know that, in Saskatchewan and elsewhere, the largest and most dangerous outbreaks have been related to travel, to large gatherings and to seniors’ care homes,” Moe said.

The premier also highlighted the importance of testing and contact tracing in controlling the spread of the virus.

“We are looking at ways to increase testing and contact tracing in the days ahead,” he said.

‘Gradually turning up the light’

Moe said the province’s plan will be “gradual, methodical and cautious.”

“It’s not like flipping on a light switch,” he said. “If anything, it’s more of a dimmer switch that’s begin turned down. Over the next several weeks, we’ll be gradually turning up the light once again on Saskatchewan’s economy.”

Moe finished his address by sharing stories of Saskatchewan people stepping up to help each other during the pandemic.

“I’ve never been so proud to call this province home,” he said.

Sask. NDP calling for safe steps in reopening economy

Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili said any steps taken to return Saskatchewan to normal need to be taken safely.

“[We need to make sure] that our healthcare system is ready, with protective equipment, with testing, with enough capacity to respond to new cases,” Meili said in a news release. “We need to make sure the supports are in place for workers, for families and for the most vulnerable in our province.”

Meili called on the government to introduce policies focused on Saskatchewan people building schools, highways and hospitals. He also said the province should invest in frontline health care, expand home care and increase staff at care homes.

“The only way through this is together – and that is where Saskatchewan people excel,” Meili said. “Together, we will stay healthy, we will stay safe and we will stay ready to fight the pandemic, fight for our economic recovery – and fight for each other.”