Sask. reopening plan reliant on vaccination puts people 'in charge of our destiny': ICU specialist

Dr. Hassan Masri, an intensive care specialist, praised the province's proposed reopening plan, revealed Tuesday. But the owner of Nicky's Cafe in Regina says he's disappointed restaurant restrictions will remain in place at least until end of May.

Nicky's Cafe owner disappointed restaurant restrictions will remain in place at least until end of May

Intensive care specialist Dr. Hassan Masri was one of the first people in the city of Saskatoon to get the COVID-19 vaccine in December. The proposed reopening plan revealed Tuesday is reasonable, he says. (Don Somers/CBC)

Nicky's Cafe would typically be busy with the breakfast and lunch rushes, as people take a break to eat. 

Instead, during the current public health restrictions, Perry Makris sits in his empty Regina restaurant and waits for calls, usually getting about six breakfast orders and a few more at lunch time. His sales have been about 20 per cent what they were pre-pandemic. 

"I've had to lay off staff. There's only a couple of people that are here working," Makris said.

On Tuesday, the Saskatchewan government released a three-step plan to gradually relax provincial COVID-19 public health measures.

Some current restrictions, such as limits on in-restaurant dining, could be eased as soon as late May.

That's still disappointing for Makris.

"We still have to wait and wait another three weeks to reopen again," he said, but he's hopeful the plan will go ahead. 

"'It's definitely been hard," said Makris. "I haven't taken a paycheque in a long time. We'll put it that way."

Nicky's Cafe in Regina has been a part of the morning breakfast scene for almost 30 years. A photo from before the pandemic shows regulars having breakfast. John Hopkins at the Regina and District Chamber of Commerce said a careful reopening is key to the province's economic recovery. (CBC)

The potential timeline for the reopening plan — with the rules being gradually relaxed over the coming months — is "subject to change if vaccination targets are not met," the province said Tuesday.

Dr. Hassan Masri, an intensive care specialist in Saskatoon, said that means if people want to see the plan go ahead and get their lives back to normal,  they have to do their part.

"We are in charge of our destiny," Masri said. "We've not lost control. We are in control and the government has to do its part. But we also have to do our part by getting this vaccine and moving past this critical phase."

Masri said the current COVID-19 situation in the province is critical, with people dying and hospitals struggling with capacity. People will need to be careful during May and follow current public health restrictions, he said, but having a plan in place helps people. 

"For a long time we have been in fight mode against COVID-19, and many people are looking for the end of this fight," Masri said. "Step 1 of this [reopening] plan is not very aggressive."

(Government of Saskatchewan)

That stage would allow for a limited in-restaurant dining, and expand limits for public gatherings outside, among other changes — but only if 70 per cent or more of those age 40 and up are vaccinated. 

Masri said that slow reopening is reasonable, but changes may need to be considered if Saskatchewan sees a spike in cases.

"We need to understand that the collective ego has to be put aside … if in the next two weeks we see the rise of cases, whether because of spread from Alberta or a surge in Saskatoon, etc., then these plans will have to be delayed."

3-step plan based on vaccine thresholds

The CEO of the Regina and District Chamber of Commerce also praised a plan "which in large part will depend on us, the people of the Saskatchewan."

"The gradual safe opening of our province is important to our economic future," said John Hopkins.

The reopening plan is a positive but measured step forward, Hopkins said, encouraging everyone to get vaccinated to help meet targets.

Each of the three proposed stages of the reopening has two thresholds that must be met before it is triggered:

  • Step 1 - Last week of May: It has been three weeks since 70 per cent of residents aged 40 and above have received their first dose, and vaccine eligibility has opened to all adults ages 18 and older across the province. 
  • Step 2 - Third week of June: It has been three weeks since 70 per cent of residents age 30 and above have received their first dose and three weeks since Step 1 began.
  • Step 3 - Second week of July: It has been three weeks since 70 per cent of residents age 18 and older have received their first dose and three weeks Step 2 began.

Masri said the 70 per cent threshold is attainable.

But he warned that if only 70 per cent of people get vaccinated, COVID-19 will continue to be around and outbreaks could continue for years to come. 

"I do think that 70 per cent is the floor of the minimum requirements. I do obviously hope that the number will be much higher," Masri said. "It is certainly not the goal."

With files from Guy Quenneville


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