COVID-19 in Saskatchewan: 5-phase plan to reopen province set to begin May 4
Opposition NDP say questions remain around plan
The Saskatchewan government's five-phase plan to reopen the province is set to begin on May 4.
The plan, which was unveiled Thursday by Premier Scott Moe and Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab, will guide the province as it restarts its economy during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
"Over the next several weeks, restrictions will be gradually lifted by adding more types of businesses to the allowable businesses list, meaning that they can reopen if they so choose," Moe said in a news release.
"All businesses and public venues will be required to continue following physical distancing and cleaning and disinfection practices to protect both employees and customers. Members of the public will be expected to follow physical distancing rules and to stay home if they are experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms."
Following the plan's unveiling, Moe said the focus was to ensure Saskatchewan residents are kept safe and that businesses affected by the pandemic can stay afloat, saying it was not his goal to have Saskatchewan be the first province to reopen.
He said at this time, there is no set metric in place to determine when restrictions may be tightened again, saying if there is a local flare-up, the province will investigate to determine why and where it occurred.
"It depends on where those cases are coming from. If they are cases, for example, that may be in a long-term care centre and we determine the cases are not from anything that has occurred with reopening Phase 1 or 2 through our aggressive contact tracing, it may not affect anything at all with respect to the phases that we are doing," Moe said.
"If we find that those cases, through aggressive contact tracing, are traced back to one in particular business or suite of businesses, we would look at honing in very closely on that particular business, or those particular businesses in that sector, to ensure that we are doing everything to keep Saskatchewan residents safe."
Many dates still being determined
Phase 1, set to begin May 4, will see restrictions lifted on certain medical services alongside a focus on outdoor recreation:
- Medical services including dentistry, optometry, physical therapy, opticians, podiatry, occupational therapy and chiropractic treatment.
- Facilities to accommodate low-risk outdoor activities, such as boating and fishing.
- Online reservations for campgrounds, which are then to be opened on June 1.
- Golf courses will reopen with restrictions beginning May 15.
WATCH | Sask. to start easing COVID-19 restrictions starting in May:
Phase 2, set to begin May 19, will include the opening of retail businesses and personal services not initially allowed under Saskatchewan's state of emergency:
- Clothing stores, sporting good stores, vaping supply shops, bookstores, jewelry stores, boat and ATV dealerships, accessory stores, music stores, electronic stores, pawnshops and travel agencies.
- Personal services including hairdressers, registered massage therapists, acupuncturists and acupressurists.
Businesses are expected to continue practising physical distancing and implement screening measures if physical distancing is not possible.
Phase 3, to be enacted at a date still to be determined, will see the reopening of the remaining personal services and a relaxing of the restrictions on public gatherings:
- Aestheticians, tattoo artists, cosmetologists, electrologists, manicurists, pedicurists, suntanning parlours, body piercing, bone grafting or scarification services and other personal service providers.
- Restaurant and food services, to operate at 50 per cent capacity.
- Child-care centres.
- Licensed establishments.
- Limits on public gatherings will increase to 15 people.
Phase 4, on a date also yet to be determined, will see further openings:
- Casinos, bingo halls, curling rinks, swimming pools, municipal parks and playgrounds, movie theatres, museums and similar facilities.
- Seasonal programming, such as camps, recreational activities and athletic activities.
- Limits on public gatherings will increase to 30 people.
Phase 5, which Moe said will be dependent on factors such as the COVID-19 case count, will include the lifting of long-term restrictions.
Read the province's full plan here:
Some restrictions will remain
Long-term restrictions on high-risk areas will initially remain in place through the first phases of reopening. These include maintaining the current state of emergency and recommendations against non-essential international and inter-provincial travel.
Mandatory self-isolation, with the threat of fines, will also remain in place. People have to self-isolate for 14 days if they have travelled internationally, have tested positive for COVID-19 or if they have come into contact with someone who has the illness.
Classes will remain suspended throughout the province's public and private schools, and restrictions will likely remain in place for the rest of the school year. Moe said whether or not schools open in the fall will depend on how well implementation of the plan goes, as Saskatchewan will be watching closely other jurisdictions where schools have opened to see what the results have been.
Visitation restrictions are still in place for long-term care facilities, hospitals, personal care homes and group homes.
Large public gatherings are still prohibited.
During the news conference, the premier said he's not concerned about the fact that Saskatchewan is releasing its plan ahead of other provinces, saying there will be alignment between plans where possible.
"We are all in different places when it comes to how COVID-19 has been dealt with and what the results of that have ultimately been," he said, noting he has shared the plan with any provincial counterpart that has asked.
Prior to the release of the plan on Thursday, Moe said his government believes it can reopen the province safely, but only with "great caution."
"Our government takes this decision extremely seriously," Moe said.
"If we move too quickly, we risk increasing the spread of COVID-19. If we move too slowly, we risk permanent damage to the livelihoods of thousands of Saskatchewan people. Businesses that never reopen, and jobs that never come back."
Some small gatherings OK
He said the process will be done "gradually and methodically" and in close collaboration with the chief medical health officer, Shahab.
Shahab said it is OK for people to gather with their friends and neighbours for something like a barbecue, but said they should do their best to limit contact to two or three households. While there may be some risk associated with these types of contact, it should be safe if no one in the households are sick, he said.
"Try to meet the same people in the same households for the next little while," he said. "Don't randomly meet three new people every day, because I think that's where the risk goes up."
Moe said businesses have been doing a great job in the province when it comes to maintaining strict cleaning and safety measures for both customers and staff.
Shahab stressed that these steps need to be followed, because while many businesses may be restarting, by no means is it business as usual.
"The risk has not gone away," he said, as one case can result in thousands more. "It's very important that we remain very disciplined as more and more sectors open up."
Both said while it's likely Saskatchewan will see localized flare-ups of COVID-19 in certain parts of the province, every individual has their own role to play taking cautions as the reopening plan goes ahead, saying it's up to all Saskatchewan residents to keep the curve flat.
Questions remain, opposition says
Leader of the opposition NDP Ryan Meili said it's good news that the province is able to discuss plans for reopening and that the virus has had little impact on the health of Saskatchewan overall, but said the pandemic has taken its toll on many.
"People have made incredible sacrifices to make that curve flat," he said.
Meili said it's his hope the province's plan will find a balance between restarting the economy as quickly as possible but doing so as safely as possible.
"This is a plan that seeks to do that," he said. "It's also a plan that is not without risks and it's not without some lingering questions about the details."
Meili said there are still questions about Saskatchewan's health care capacity should the province see an increase in cases, as well as questions about how officials will determine whether or not the phases were successful.
"What will be the triggers to allow that?" he asked.
Meili also wants to see more information about how the province plans to enforce physical distancing in businesses and how it plans to support businesses that are reopening. He said the plan also doesn't include any details about how the province will support Saskatchewan's most vulnerable, like senior citizens and those who are homeless.
The NDP also questioned what Plan B the province would have if the phase-in doesn't go well, saying the plan needs to be focused on keeping Saskatchewan residents safe as opposed political optics.
WATCH | Premier Scott Moe says Saskatchewan's 5-stage reopening plan will begin in May
NDP says consultation lacking
Meili also took issue with the lack of details about what consultations took place in formulating the plan, saying he feels the province has failed to consult in a meaningful way with First Nation, Métis, municipal and labour leaders throughout the pandemic.
"That shows in this document, so there are a lot of questions," he said, adding the NDP will be examining it closely in coming days.
"This document is about opening some of the barriers that have been put in place, relaxing some of the restrictions, but we still have yet to see any meaningful discussion of how the Sask. Party plans to support communities, individuals, families and businesses through this time."
Meili says additional resources from the province need to be put in place as soon as possible, even as the phase-in takes place.
"We know that even if everything opened up tomorrow, there's going to be significant challenges for people at this time, and there needs to be provincial investment and support," he said. "Our long-term success depends on not on the speed of how quickly we open up but the quality of that plan."
Meili said the government needs to get the plan right to avoid a situation where the province is forced to close again after reopening. He said it will be some time before it can be determined if the plan was successful in finding the right balance between keeping people safe and restarting the economy.
"It would be folly to pretend that this is over and that we're done," he said, noting some countries have relaxed certain restrictions only to see cases spike.
"We have to recognize that there are risks involved and we are not past this," he said, adding later, "Anyone who tells you they've got this figured out and has a foolproof plan is telling you stories, because there is lot of this we're still learning."
On Thursday, the province recorded five more cases of COVID-19, bringing the provincial total to 331, of which 270 are listed as recovered and 57 are listed as active.