Sask. premier hints at reducing COVID-19 restrictions during radio appearance

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said on a radio show Wednesday that the province is looking at pulling back COVID-19 restrictions, specifically youth isolation and proof-of-vaccination requirements.

Sask.'s chief medical health officer says restrictions are in place until the end of February

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said on a radio show Wednesday that he thinks the province's use of vaccine passports has 'for the most part run its course.' (Matthew Howard/CBC)

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said on a radio show Wednesday that the province is looking at pulling back COVID-19 restrictions, specifically youth isolation and proof-of-vaccination requirements.

But during a virtual news conference later in the day, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said health restrictions are in place until the end of February.

Moe told host John Gormley on CJME/CKOM radio Wednesday to expect some communications from the province about COVID-19 measures affecting youth "in the next number of days."

"We know there's close contact isolation in our schools, where kids aren't able to participate in extra-curricular for a few days after, that is a restriction that has likely run its course, and I think we're going to hear Dr. Shahab speak specifically to that one and the opportunities for our youth in the next couple of days," Moe said during the radio interview.

Moe also said he thought requiring proof of vaccination had "for the most part runs its course."

"It increased our vaccination rates tremendously, but I think we're getting to a point now where those that are not vaccinated likely aren't going to get vaccinated," Moe said.

He said he think the province needs to "have a discsussion" about proof of vaccination requirements "sometime this month."

When asked for comment Wednesday, a government spokesperson said they had nothing further to add to Moe's comments.

"Any changes to the public health order, guidelines or recommendations will be communicated out through official government channels," the spokesperson said in an email to CBC. 

During an virtual news conference by Saskatchewan's Provincial Emergency Operations Centre, Shahab reiterated that restrictions are in place until the end of February.

"So we already know what's in place for February," Shahab said. "But what should happen in March, April, May, I think those are recommendations that will go to government and be discussed, and they still haven't proceeded at this point. But those discussions obviously happen on an ongoing fashion."

Dr. Saqib Shahab said discussions are ongoing for what to do in the sort- and long-term regarding health restrictions. (CBC)

Shahab said it appears Omicron cases are beginning to crest in Saskatoon and Regina, with urban areas lagging a couple of weeks behind.

According to a study released Monday by the Global Institute for Water Security at the University of Saskatchewan, samples taken from wastewater plants in Saskatoon, North Battleford and Prince Albert showed a decrease in COVID-19 viral load compared to previous weeks.

Shahab said hospitalizations and deaths will continue to climb over the coming weeks.

"For the short term I think we still need to stay the course, because even though we are cresting and starting to come down, if we relax everything right away we will just rebound and that would not be good at all," Shahab said.

"So just because we are cresting doesn't mean we can stop everything today."

Dr. Satchan Takaya, an infectious disease expert with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, says proof of vaccination restrictions have been effective in limiting the transmission of COVID-19. (CBC)

Dr. Satchan Takaya, an infectious diseases specialist with the Saskatchewan Health Authority [SHA], said during the same update that proof of vaccination requirements are having an impact.

"We know that the vaccine is working, so even though we do have cases where even fully vaccinated people are picking up [COVID-19], even with boosters are picking up, those are much lower than those that are unvaccinated, and I think that proof of vaccination is important to try to control that transmission," Takaya said.

"We also need to control the hospital surge, and we know that those people that progress to severe disease are those that are not vaccinated yet."

Paxlovid available

Marlo Pritchard, president of the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency, said there were 315 people with COVID-19 in hospital, with 33 of them in intensive care.

He also said Pfizer's at-home COVID treatment, Paxlovid, is now available to specific groups in the province.

"Paxlovid is for treatment of symptomatic COVID-19 after a positive test. It is not for prevention of COVID-19 infection," Pritchard said. 

He said it is only recommended for adults over 18 who are symptomatic, within five days of developing symptoms, and have tested positive through a PCR or rapid test for mild or moderate COVID-19.

He said those eligible to get Paxlovid include immunocompromised residents who are not fully vaccinated, or people who have a medical condition that puts them at high risk and are not fully vaccinated.

Those that meet that criteria must call the province's 811 HealthLine to be assessed.

Pritchard said Paxlovid will only being given through a referral by the Healthline.