'Do not have gatherings': Sask. top doctor says to limit yourself to essential contacts

Dr. Saqib Shahab says staying away from gatherings is critical to stopping the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant. 

The province has not implemented any official gathering limits

Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab says Saskatchewan residents should limit their contacts and not gather. However, the province is not installing official gathering restrictions at this time. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

Saskatchewan's top doctor is asking residents to limit their contact with people to only the essential, and to not have gatherings.

Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said staying away from gatherings is critical to stopping the spread of the highly contagious Omicron variant.

"We need to do everything to blunt the wave. This is not the time for any gatherings at all. You should do what is essential, which means going to work and going to school. But otherwise not having any contact with anyone outside your household," Shahab said at a news conference on Thursday.

The province is still not implementing official gathering restrictions, as other provinces have done, despite skyrocketing COVID-19 case numbers.

Meanwhile, videos allegedly showing high school students partying mask-less and in close quarters on New Year's Eve, as well videos of adults at nightclubs, are being shared across social media in the province. They're fuelling some frustration among Saskatchewan residents.

"I have received a couple of reports about house parties that are very crowded and have resulted in secondary transmission in schools," said Shahab. 

An image of an alleged high school New Year's party in Saskatchewan where young people were mask-less and crowded together. (Dan Vakoch/Twitter)

Shahab said he has not received a lot of information about transmissions linked to New Year's celebrations.

"I think the next two to four weeks, we really need to be very cautious. I would like to say that the government relies on the public actually doing the right thing, and most of us do. But if a significant proportion don't, then that means that unfortunately the government would have to consider stronger measures."

Shahab said the Omicron is less severe than other COVID-19 variants, but by no means something residents should disregard. 

"Absolutely I think a single large transmission event right now can generate hundreds of cases in that event, which can within a week lead to thousands of cases because the doubling time was three to four days," he said.

"So within two to three weeks, one single ill-planned and not recommended event can result in thousands of cases which, once they impact people who are unvaccinated, who are older, who are frail and compromised, will lead to increase in hospitalizations."

WATCH | Party footage sparks concern in Saskatchewan 

Party footage sparks concern in Saskatchewan

1 year ago
Duration 0:21
Several recent videos of people allegedly partying in Saskatchewan have sparked concerns about the province's lack of restrictions on gatherings.

In a statement to the CBC, the province said it would not be bringing in gathering limits as of Thursday.

"But as the Premier has stated, he is not ruling out new measures in the coming days if required," read the statement. 

Pandemic fatigue among youth

Dr. Tamara Hinz, a Saskatoon child and adolescent psychiatrist and an assistant professor at the University of Saskatchewan in the college of medicine, said she found the pictures of partying high school students crammed together in a room shocking. 

"We're so not used to seeing people so tightly gathered and so many bodies in one space.... And so I think my immediate, visceral reaction was sort of being shocked and horrified at the potential for COVID transmission in a gathering like that," Hinz said. 

"But soon afterwards my second reaction was, based on our current regulations and legislation, these children and the parents who let them go, if they were aware of the party, technically did nothing wrong.

"And I think that feels like it's a really uncomfortable contrast, that it feels instinctively so unsafe and wrong." 

Hinz said it's important that people look to their government and other forms of authority to receive direction in terms of what is currently safe and what they should be allowed to do as the pandemic rages on.

Saskatoon psychiatrist Dr. Tamara Hinz says reasonable gathering limits are needed in Saskatchewan to keep schools safe. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

She said many experts like herself are calling for sensible limits to protect people. Meanwhile, many young people are experiencing pandemic fatigue, she said.

"Most teenagers are inherently social beings. It's really that important part of adolescent development to be with our peers. And so there's going to be that natural drive to to get together with friends," Hinz said.

"It's hard on all of us. But the younger you are, the greater the proportion of your life that this pandemic has been around. So I certainly don't blame kids for feeling the lingering effects of that."

Hinz said children's mental health should be prioritized and that's partly why children should be in schools. 

"But that can't happen if the virus is just left unchecked to rampage through our communities. So to keep schools safe, we need to keep our communities safe. And allowing massive close contact gatherings like that is not going to do it."

Opposition response

Official Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said he was disappointed to see parties that are indoors, mask-less and with many people crammed together. 

"That's obviously not in line with what public health would be recommending. But let's make it clear: we can't expect teenagers to lead the way when adults won't," Meili said. 

"When you've got a government that has been downplaying this, saying, 'don't worry about it, it's mild, it's not serious, it's not happening here yet,' this is what happens. People don't take it seriously and especially younger, immature folks are going to go and respond in that way."

CBC reached out to both Regina Public Schools and the Regina Catholic School Division about the alleged parties, and they said they could not comment on non-school-sanctioned events. 


Laura Sciarpelletti

Journalist & Radio Columnist

Laura is a journalist for CBC Saskatchewan. She is also the community reporter for CBC's virtual road trip series Land of Living Stories and host of the arts and culture radio column Queen City Scene Setter, which airs on CBC's The Morning Edition. Laura previously worked for CBC Vancouver. Some of her former work has appeared in the Globe and Mail, NYLON Magazine, VICE Canada and The Tyee. Laura specializes in human interest, arts and environmental coverage. She holds a master of journalism degree from the University of British Columbia. Follow Laura on Twitter: @MeLaura. Send her news tips at