Saskatchewan

Sask. premier says strict COVID-19 restrictions cause 'significant harm for no significant benefit'

COVID-19 hospital numbers continue to climb in Saskatchewan as the contagious Omicron variant spreads across the province.

Sask. only province to not implement gathering, capacity limits in response to Omicron

Premier Scott Moe said Saskatchewan is not expected to implement further measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

Saskatchewan is not expected to implement further measures to curb the spread of COVID-19. It is the only province to not implement gathering or capacity limits in response to Omicron.

During a COVID-19 update on Monday, Premier Scott Moe doubled down on that decision by saying that "lockdown" restrictions cause "significant harm for no significant benefit."

Moe said that Saskatchewan trails other provinces in hospital admissions. He said that Quebec has stricter measures, but higher hospitalization numbers than Saskatchewan. 

"The evidence is right here in Saskatchewan as we manage through this Omicron wave, with very little in the way of restrictions on people's lives, and we have lower rates of hospitalizations, lower rates of ICU admissions and lower rates, thankfully, of fatalities through the month of January, than many other provinces with much more severe restrictions," said Moe. 

COVID-19 hospital numbers continue to climb in Saskatchewan as the contagious Omicron variant spreads across the province.

As of Monday, there were 262 people with the virus in hospital, according to the daily update on the province's online dashboard.

Twenty-nine of the patients reported Monday are in intensive care.

"Lockdown and vaccinations do not seem to be stopping the transmission of the Omicron variant," Moe said.

"But at the same time, we are seeing all Omicron with a much quicker cycle of infection, and it seems to be less severe than previous strains, particularly if you are vaccinated and have your booster shot."

Moe said that approximately 74 per cent of Saskatchewan residents over the age of 60 have their third vaccine dose. 

Meanwhile, Moe said some countries and other provinces are beginning to discuss the removal of the remaining measures that they have in place.

"They're also starting to talk about how they're going to live with COVID as we move forward through the next number of weeks and months and ultimately into eternity, and how we are going to get our life back to a much more normal semblance of normal."

Moe said the province is not quite there yet, but could be in the near future.

On Jan. 18, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said Saskatoon and Regina could reach their Omicron case peak in the next two weeks, with the rest of the province expected to see a peak two weeks after that.

Shahab said Saskatchewan's Omicron surge was one to three weeks behind other provinces.

As of Sunday, the seven day rolling average rate of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the province was 789 per 100,000 population. 

Saskatchewan Minister of Health Paul Merriman said on Jan. 24 that Regina and Saskatoon hospital beds are currently at capacity. (The Canadian Press)

Hospital bed capacity

Health Minister Paul Merriman said at Monday's update that Regina and Saskatoon hospital beds are currently at capacity, but that provincewide, 85 per cent of hospital beds are occupied.

"This is showing that we are prepared for what could be more people coming into the hospital system," Merriman said. 

The premier said patient transfers might be necessary as hospitals in urban centres continue to fill up with Omicron patients. 

"So we would, I think, ask for a little bit of leniency and patience with families that may need care in those urban centres," Moe said. 

"We may have to move some of our family members out to a different location, for example, maybe a nearby rural community where we do have beds available, to ease some of the pressures and allow us to really utilize the full provincial capacity that we have." 

Official Opposition response

Official Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said during a media event on Monday that he opposes Moe's decision to not enact further restrictions.

"He has the modelling in front of him. He knows how many people are going to be sick. He knows many people are going to die. He knows that health-care workers will be put under incredible pressure. He knows that surgeries and other important essential parts of care will be cancelled. He knows that his choices are going to cause people to suffer," Meili said. 

The Saskatchewan NDP leader said Moe's statement that residents should learn to live with Omicron is "the most irresponsible thing I've heard from a very irresponsible man."

Meili said the government needs to make the right choices to keep people safe.

"There may come a time when COVID-19 is endemic, where it's a regular part of our lives, where we're doing annual shots like we do with the flu shot," Meili said. "These are places we could get to. But to pretend that we're there in a way that causes people to fill up our hospitals and die, is absolutely criminal."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Laura is a reporter for CBC Saskatchewan. She is also the community reporter for CBC's virtual road trip series Land of Living Stories. 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. She holds a master of journalism degree from the University of British Columbia. Follow Laura on Twitter: @MeLaura. Send her news tips at laura.sciarpelletti@cbc.ca

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