REGINA -- Nearly 300 Saskatchewan physicians have signed a letter to the government asking for more aggressive measures as the province grapples with COVID-19 variants.

“Our current measures are not enough,” says the letter, signed by 285 doctors. “Our system will not cope with these more aggressive, more contagious and more lethal variants. Without further action, both our healthcare system and the economy will be further devastated.”

Dr. Dennis Kendel, who currently works as a health policy consultant, said he signed the letter without hesitation.

“This is a letter prepared by individual doctors based on their perspectives, their experiences,” said Kendel. 

The letter, addressed to Premier Scott Moe and Health Minister Paul Merriman, calls for increased public health measures across the province, economic support for people whose livelihoods have been impacted and paid sick time for essential workers.

Kendel was not part of the drafting of the letter, but said it is not addressed to Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical health officer, because Moe and Merriman are the decision makers. He added the physicians have a fair amount of interaction with Dr. Shahab as a colleague.  

Doctors are also asking the province to expand vaccine eligibility to include all healthcare workers, all essential workers – such as teachers, early childhood educators and frontline personnel – and those who may be at a higher risk because of socio-economic factors.

According to the doctors, many essential workers are from lower socio-economic groups and cannot afford to stay home or isolate from their families if someone is sick. The physicians said these groups will not receive the vaccine fast enough to protect them.

“The wording says we are ‘calling for the following,’ I mean, I think the letter’s respectful but these are more than suggestions. Failing to do these mean people will die who do not need to die,” Kendel said.

Moe said he has seen the letter and that it is “appreciated advice” to be used in the decision process for the government and Dr. Shahab.

“I don’t disagree with… and I understand the precipitous behind the letter and some of the asks that they’ve put in there and I think we take it under guidance as part of the decision process,” said Moe. 

The provincial government has maintained that vaccines – not more public health measures – are the province’s ticket out of the pandemic, while doctors say vaccines alone will not lead Saskatchewan to safety.

“Vaccinations are the light at the end of the tunnel, but we are not close enough to the end to rely solely on them,” reads the letter.

On Wednesday, Merriman said he is “extremely concerned” about the current COVID-19 situation in Regina, but the province won't be straying from its vaccination strategy to address the problem.

“I think that’s what motivates physicians to say, ‘We have to try this again.’ And I’m just hopeful that this time the minister will not sweep it aside,” said Kendel. 

Doctors in the province previously wrote an open letter – which was signed by more than 300 physicians – to the government in November. The letter was addressed to Moe, Merriman and Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical health officer. It called for “leadership” in the face of rising COVID-19 case numbers.