Sask. to end COVID-19 proof of vaccination policy on Feb. 14, mandatory masking to remain until end of month
Province also opens COVID-19 booster doses to children 12 to 17 years old
Saskatchewan will end its vaccine passport policy on Monday, Feb. 14.
That means businesses, workplaces and other public venues will no longer be mandated by the province to require proof of vaccination or a negative test.
Currently, all Saskatchewan residents must show proof that they have received two shots of the COVID-19 vaccine to enter restaurants, bars and many other businesses. They also have the option to provide a negative COVID-19 test.
Those requirements will be removed Monday.
"We want things to be as normal as they possibly can," Premier Scott Moe said at a COVID-19 update on Tuesday.
The provincial government confirmed that other current public health orders, including a requirement to mask in indoor public spaces and a requirement to self isolate after contracting COVID-19, will remain in effect until the latest public health order expires at the end of February.
Moe said the public health order will not be renewed. He said that means rules like mandatory self-isolation for those with COVID-19 will also be over at the end of the month.
Sask. first to unveil plan
Moe and Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province's chief medical health officer, laid out the plan at a COVID-19 update on Tuesday.
Saskatchewan has become the first province to reveal a plan to relax restrictions, although Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has said he will do the same later on Tuesday.
WATCH| Details on Sask. ending its COVID-19 proof of vaccination policy:
The province says eHealth Saskatchewan will continue to make proof of vaccination records and QR codes available to Saskatchewan residents to use where needed, including for travel and in other jurisdictions.
The province's Official Opposition was quick to voice criticism of the decision.
Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili said the decision to drop COVID-19 restrictions is similar to the decisions Moe has made throughout the course of the pandemic.
"My mind goes back to a pattern we've seen from Scott Moe throughout the pandemic. He always wants to be the first to remove public health protections and yet be the last to bring them in when they're needed," Meili said.
Moe said on Tuesday that it's time for the province to move forward and past the proof of vaccination policy, which he said was divisive and "effectively created two classes of citizens" in Saskatchewan.
"To my knowledge, this province has never done anything like that before in our history, for any vaccine or for any other reason for that matter," Moe said.
The premier said it was now time to move on from a policy under which the benefits no longer outweigh the cost.
Moe asked everyone to be understanding of each other's choices around things like wearing a mask or getting vaccinated.
"Don't lose a friend to COVID. You might have to take some time apart, but keep that door open," he said.
"This is a tolerant province, and we are going to need all of that tolerance in the days ahead."
Province opens booster dose eligibility
Saskatchewan also announced that all Saskatchewan residents 12 to 17 years old are now able to receive a Pfizer-BioNTech mRNA booster dose of a COVID-19 vaccine effective immediate.
The booster dose will only be administered five months or more after the child has received their second dose.
Before the announcement, childhood booster doses were only available for adolescents who were immunocompromised or had other health conditions and could be administered three months after receiving their second dose of vaccinations.
Businesses should talk to lawyer if looking to implement proof of vaccine
Moe was asked whether businesses that choose to continue requiring proof of vaccination after the province's mandate is lifted would have legal protection, as they did while the mandate was in place.
He said businesses will no longer have that legal protection.
"My advice to them would be to consult their lawyer," the premier said.
The decision is being made in order to have unified access to schools, business and throughout communities in Saskatchewan, the premier said.
Echoes of last summer
The province's announcement of lifting restrictions comes a little more than eight months after Moe and Shahab sealed the final regularly scheduled COVID-19 update with a handshake ahead of lifting all previous COVID-19 health restrictions on July 11.
Measures would be re-introduced months later as COVID-19-related hospitalizations and ICU admissions surged across the province.
Saskatchewan would eventually record 156 deaths in Oct., the deadliest month of the pandemic, as a result of the wave fuelled by the Delta variant.
The premier has recently stated that "vaccination does not keep you from contracting COVID-19." Experts disagree with his assessment and says it is based on misunderstanding the data being reported by Saskatchewan.
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In recent interviews Moe has also pointed to hospitalizations dropping as a reason to lift restrictions.
Health officials have already reduced some restrictions, saying they want to begin treating COVID-19 like any other communicable disease.
As part of that policy shift, the province stopped providing daily COVID-19 updates as of Monday.
The data does indicate hospitalizations dropped in the three days preceding the halt of daily updates.
Meili highlighted the lack of information available to the public in his media conference on Tuesday.
"It's extremely hard to trust him when at the same time as he's making these choices, he's also decreasing the amount of information we have available, decreasing access to testing and decreasing the data about what's happening with COVID-19 that's available to Saskatchewan people," the Saskatchewan NDP Leader said.
Saskatchewan now requires all PCR tests for COVID-19 to be booked in advance via the 811 HealthLine and has reserved the tests for "priority populations at elevated risk to severe outcomes.
The head of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour has already called for the province to continue with some public health measures.
At a news conference on Monday, Lori Johb called for the province to allow public access to PCR testing and for the proof of vaccination system to remain in place.
"Our provincial government has let us down every step of the way throughout this pandemic. They have done nothing to ensure that workers are safe. We need paid sick time so that they can comfortably stay at home and continue to get paid while they're taking care of themselves if they're ill. Those things are essential," she said.
Johb said workers need 10 days of paid sick time.