Sask. Opposition pushes for COVID vaccine mandate on provincial employees

Saskatchewan's Opposition leader is pushing for the government to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for all its employees.

Health Canada says Saskatchewan's vaccination rate is 2nd-lowest in country

Health Canada said Saskatchewan's vaccination rate is the second-lowest in the country. (Denis Balibouse/Reuters)

Saskatchewan's Opposition leader is pushing for the provincial government to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for all its employees.

NDP Leader Ryan Meili said he wants Premier Scott Moe to make it a requirement for all health, Crown corporation, government and public agency employees in Saskatchewan to be vaccinated or face regular testing.

"There is nothing in place to protect Saskatchewan people as the fourth wave runs wild, and right now Scott Moe is nowhere to be seen," Meili said Thursday at a news conference in front of the legislature in Regina. "He's given up. He's given up on the fight against COVID-19. He's given up on Saskatchewan children. He's given up on health-care
workers burning out."

Last week, the Saskatchewan Party government announced it will establish a policy to require front-line health workers to provide proof of vaccination in the workplace. Those who are not vaccinated will be required to get tested regularly for COVID-19. Further details about the policy, including its rollout, have yet to be released.

In a statement Thursday, the government said it's not considering mandatory vaccinations at this time.

A spokeswoman said Wednesday that the government continues to monitor COVID-19 in consultation with the province's chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab.

"Premier Moe and (Health) Minister (Paul) Merriman are further engaging with the Saskatchewan Health Authority regarding the recent increase in hospitalization numbers and the ongoing capacity of the health-care system," Julie Leggott said.

She added the premier would have more to say on this "in the coming days."

With no public health orders currently in place in Saskatchewan, municipalities, schools and businesses are left to implement their own policies to reduce the spread of COVID-19 as the province faces some of the highest COVID-19 numbers in Canada.

The Government of Canada website shows Saskatchewan had the highest rate of cases in the last week, with 217 infections per 100,000 residents. That's more than triple the national average of 69.

The weekly rate of cases in Saskatchewan's Northern Health Region is even higher, with 1,121 cases per 100,000 residents.

Some Indigenous groups in Saskatchewan are offering vaccine incentives to encourage people to get their COVID-19 shots. The Lac La Ronge Indian Band in the province's northeast is giving $300 to every member who gets two jabs. Métis Nation-Saskatchewan is also rolling out a vaccine lottery, with prizes that include a boat or truck, for Métis residents who are fully vaccinated.

Meili said the government needs a provincewide strategy to boost vaccinations, as rates have plateaued.

Health Canada said Saskatchewan's vaccination rate is the second-lowest in the country, with 69 per cent of eligible residents fully vaccinated.

"We should not be having a random patchwork of who makes calls or doesn't," Meili said. "This should be a provincewide, consistent policy."

Hospitalizations continued to climb along with cases Thursday. The province reported 285 new cases and one additional death. The seven-day average of daily new cases reached a record high for the pandemic with 364 new cases per day. There were 184 people in hospital with the virus, including 32 in intensive care.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority has started to implement more measures to reduce transmission.

Thursday was the second day the health authority closed its COVID-19 testing site in Prince Albert early due to capacity issues.

Starting Friday, the health authority will require visitors of long-term care homes to wear a mask in common areas and is strongly recommending residents do the same when they are not in their rooms.

In Saskatoon, patients at all acute care hospitals are limited to two visitors at a time.

The health authority said in a release that the reduced visitation is a result of the "substantial increase in COVID-19 transmission in Saskatoon and high levels of hospital admissions."


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