REGINA -- Saskatchewan doctors are calling for new strategies to combat COVID-19 variants as cases continue to rise in southern parts of the province.

Dr. Anne Huang, a former deputy medical health officer with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said the variant outbreaks in Regina and Moose Jaw are like a wildfire.

She believes the province should consider implementing a ring vaccination strategy to contain the spread in southern Saskatchewan.

"It’s the same idea of starving the oxygen of a rapidly advancing forest fire with a fire break by cutting clearance in the forest," Dr. Huang said.

Since the start of March, Regina has had 41 outbreaks declared at workplaces, including 15 of the 20 since last Friday.

Dr. Huang said with this strategy, which was used with the smallpox vaccine and more recently with the ebola vaccine, vaccinating other workers and their families after an outbreak is identified at a workplace would help contain the spread.

"By creating this ring of immunized and immune individuals around the outbreak, we create a barrier and prevent the virus from spreading onto the general population," she said.

If the person is considered a close contact, Dr. Huang said vaccinating them could help them fight off the virus or lower their viral load, so the chance of spreading it further would decrease.

"It’s actually a common approach to vaccinate exposed individuals as soon as we learn about it, before they even have a chance to develop the infection," Dr. Huang said.

The time is running out to implement this strategy as variant cases continue to spread in Regina. Variant cases have been growing in Moose Jaw and the South East zone over the past week as well.

The Regina, South Central and South East zones accounted for 721 screened variant cases last Monday. Now – seven days later – that number has grown to 1,429.

The rest of the province went from 27 to 45 over the past week.

Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine, an epidemiology and public health professor at the University of Saskatchewan, said now is the time to act to contain the spread.

"We have to position ourselves a few steps ahead of the variant," Dr. Muhajarine said.

He believes the province should look at expanding Regina’s current restrictions to other effected areas and do more to limit travel.

"The virus goes where people go and if people go across provincial boundaries, across municipal boundaries, across rural municipal boundaries, they will take the virus with them," Dr. Muhajarine said.

"We have to be much more directive in telling to stay home and travel has to curtailed."

Dr. Muhajarine said the current restrictions in Regina will begin to have an effect, but it’s going to take two weeks to start seeing a downward trend.

"We have to commit to a number, we have to say that we will drive this down below 50 active cases in the province before we will start to gradually open up," he said.

He said these restrictions are different than last year because of the vaccine, which will provide another weapon in the fight.

"I’m confident that we are nearing an end to this," he said.