Sask. NDP, advocates react after premier teases lifting restrictions
REGINA -- For more than three months, private indoor gatherings in Saskatchewan have been limited to members of your immediate household.
Now, Premier Scott Moe is urging residents to "hang on just a few more days," hinting during Tuesday’s COVID-19 update that restrictions could be loosened as early as next week.
That’s music to the ears of many in the province, but the Saskatchewan Seniors Mechanism (SSM) said while seniors are excited about the possibility of seeing grandkids and kids again, they are willing to wait until it’s safe.
"If we aren’t careful and the grandchildren brought it into the grandparents’ home, that’s risky, so it’s that balancing part, the emotional reward, but the logic and the need to consider the risks," Linda Anderson, communications and ageism awareness coordinator with SSM, said.
The risk of variants has seniors in the province concerned, according to Anderson.
"We need to weigh the risks, we don’t want to mess up the success that we’ve had so far," she said.
The Saskatchewan NDP is open to the possibility of allowing families to gather again.
"I think it’s worth looking at," NDP Leader Ryan Meili said. "We’re seeing the case numbers level out and the vaccine numbers rise."
Meili is also cautious about relaxing restrictions with the threat of a third wave looming due to the potential spread of new variants. Saskatchewan has seen seven positive cases of variants of concern in the past month.
"How much are we seeing the U.K. and South Africa variants and where are we seeing pockets of spread," Meili said.
When it comes to seniors, Meili said the province should also consider allowing visitations again at long-term care homes with 100 per cent of facilities having received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
"With that level of vaccination among staff and residents, it really does open up an opportunity to expand the chance to reconnect with their family," Meili said. "These are seniors who have been locked away in many ways and not able to connect with family."
Dr. Cory Neudorf, an epidemiology and public health professor at the University of Saskatchewan, feels easing up on public health measures may be premature.
"One of the prices we pay for not being as restrictive is we need to keep the restrictions we have in place for longer for them to have an impact," Neudorf said.
Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 numbers have been trending in the right direction with the seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 down to 12.5 from 19.1 on Feb. 3.
The province’s test positivity rate has also stayed below 10 per cent for 27 consecutive days.
Neudorf said the numbers aren’t low enough yet for Saskatchewan to avoid a potential backslide if restrictions are loosened.
"We’re at that critical place right now where we haven’t had enough of the population immunized yet for that to take effect and we still have parts of the province that are increasing their number of cases, such as the north and Regina is still fairly high," he said.
Neudorf suggests Saskatchewan stay the course with its current public health measures until the seven-day average for new cases per 100,000 hits low single digits and the test positivity rate reaches around 1-2 per cent.
With Regina, the Far North and North regions still seeing high case numbers, regional restrictions were floated by the premier and Dr. Shahab on Tuesday, Neudorf believes that is the province’s best option.
"Are there some places where we could do some lightening of restrictions and others where we might actually have to get more restrictive than we are right now and that might be what we’re looking at for the next few months," he said.
Saskatchewan’s current public health measures are scheduled to expire on March 19.