Saskatchewan

Sask. premier says additional health measures not fair to those who have been vaccinated

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says his government is resisting calls to impose further COVID-19 measures because most of those aged 12 and older have been vaccinated.

Moe says more restrictions would impose on personal freedoms

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe delivers a state of the province address during a Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Monday. (Trevor Bothorel/CBC)

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says his government is resisting calls to impose further COVID-19 measures because most people aged 12 and older in the province have been vaccinated.

Moe made the remarks during a state of the province address at a Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Monday.

He said Saskatchewan's vaccination rates are both why the fourth wave hit the province the way it did and why he is not interested in imposing additional health measures.

As of Monday, 86 per cent of people 12 and over have had one dose of vaccine and 78 per cent are fully vaccinated.

"That larger proportion of people that are vaccinated is why we have resisted calls from many to impose more widespread restrictions to impose potentially lockdowns and ultimately business closures because we don't think it is fair," Moe said.

"It doesn't make sense to restrict everyone's activities and ultimately their personal freedoms."

Moe told reporters after his address that gathering limits were a "stop-gap measure" that will not help the province "find our way through COVID in the longer term."

Throughout the past two months, Saskatchewan has often had the highest case and death rates of all provinces.

Moe said seeing active cases trending down was "encouraging."

"Our case count still does remain high and that is due to our vaccination rate not being high enough."

Last week, the province began airlifting critically ill patients to Ontario because ICU capacity in Saskatchewan had reached its breaking point. Those transfers are continuing this week, with the total expected to reach 19 on Wednesday.

Moe's speech did not acknowledge the recent approval by the federal government of a plan to send Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) nurses to support Saskatchewan's COVID-19 fight. Six military critical care nursing officers will be working in ICUs.

The premier later told reporters he was "appreciative" of the nurses but added "it isn't enough to make a significant difference when we already have 480 nurses that are on the ground."

Moe said another 60 to 70 nurses are undergoing training for critical care.

Moe said the province's COVID-19 trajectory "is improving greatly" — citing the rise in vaccinations since his government announced proof of vaccination requirements and mandates for government employees in mid-September.

Moe said both first- and second-dose vaccinations have risen by seven per cent since then. Saskatchewan still trails all other provinces but Alberta on the percentage of eligible people who are vaccinated with a first or second dose.

'Slap in the face'

Saskatchewan Opposition Leader Ryan Meili called Moe's speech a "slap in the face" to heath-care workers and others affected by the pandemic. 

Moe "completely ignored the health crisis that his government created," Meili said in a statement. 

Meili said Moe should have announced gathering limits and more supports for health care, and replaced Health Minister Paul Merriman.

Katharine Smart, president of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA), said earlier the province needs more health measures and support for hospitals.

The six additional nurses are "really enough to staff two beds over two days. So it's certainly not going to solve the problem … the root cause here is the number of COVID cases and the escalation of case counts in the province," Smart told CBC Saskatchewan's Blue Sky radio program on Sunday.

"When you're needing the military to help you, when you're having to transfer patients out of province, when you're hearing from your ICU physicians that they're starting to use laundry rooms as spaces to care for patients, I think it's quite fair to say that you have a crisis on your hands," Smart said.

The province reported 170 news cases Monday, but that data comes from 1,681 tests, the lowest daily test count since mid-August. Saskatchewan's test positivity rate is 10 per cent.

Both the CMA and Saskatchewan Medical Association have called on Moe's government to impose gathering restrictions and other health measures.

LISTEN | Smart on Blue Sky:

Moe previews throne speech

The address served as a preview of another speech happening later this week. The fall sitting of the Saskatchewan Legislature begins Wednesday afternoon with the speech from the throne, which typically outlines the government's short-term goals and reviews past accomplishments.

Moe began Monday's speech discussing the current COVID-19 situation before transitioning to an economic message.

"Saskatchewan's best days lie ahead of us," he said.

Moe said Wednesday's throne speech would include how the government plans to build a "stronger, safer, healthier, better educated and much more independent Saskatchewan."

Moe spent much of his speech touting recent economic investment and describing the province as a place where industries can grow.

Moe had not addressed a large in-person audience in quite some time. His speeches to the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association and Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities were both virtual this year.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Adam Hunter

Journalist

Adam Hunter is the provincial affairs reporter at CBC Saskatchewan, based in Regina. He has been with CBC for more than 14 years. Follow him on Twitter @AHiddyCBC. Contact him: adam.hunter@cbc.ca

With files from Dayne Patterson

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