Saskatchewan’s premier says implementing recommendations or restrictions on gathering sizes would not be effective in decreasing COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, despite advice from the province’s top doctor.

Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer issued a recommendation against unnecessary gatherings during the current surge in coronavirus cases last week, which he reiterated during Wednesday’s COVID-19 update.

Dr. Saqib Shahab said a 10 person gathering limit “could help”, but that not even 10 people should be meeting at this point in Saskatchewan’s wave of new Omicron cases. He recommended residents “hunker down” for two to four weeks and minimize gatherings and non-essential contact. He also recommended against non-essential travel between communities in the province, to prevent a further surge in cases.

Premier Scott Moe said that preventative measures are not the answer to a surge in new cases or hospitalizations that could follow.

“Measures don’t seem to be having any impact on the case numbers in [other] jurisdictions,” Moe said. “We don’t see [restrictions] being effective in other places and we do see what we’re doing being quite effective.”

But Dr. Shahab doubled down on his recommendations Wednesday, saying restricting gatherings would help control new COVID-19 cases.

“Right now I'm saying because we are doing more, children are at school, many people are back at work I'm saying very clearly minimize your non-school, non-work contacts,” Shahab said. “Minimize getting together with friends and family. Try not to have that gathering, push that back towards March, April because I think that can only help right now.”

Health officials are preparing Saskatchewan’s health-care system for a “surge” in COVID-19-related hospitalizations and ICU admissions. According to Shahab, Saskatchewan trends behind other Canadian provinces by roughly two to four weeks when it comes to new cases and hospitalizations.

Health-care staffing continues to cause concern for the Saskatchewan government. According to health officials, two to four per cent of health authority staff are absent from work on any given day due to COVID-19 isolation protocol.

When asked about Shahab’s recommendations on gatherings, Moe said Saskatchewan residents are still gathering, but seem to be gathering less. Moe said there are consequences to limiting gatherings and other restrictions.

When asked who Saskatchewan people should trust, the premier said residents should “trust themselves” and conduct personal risk assessments.