Saskatoon

Travel bans in northern Sask. to remain through coming May long weekend at least, Moe says

Talks with northern leaders on potentially relaxing the rules for some parts of the north could happen if the number of new cases continues to remain low, the premier said Wednesday.

Talks about relaxing rules in some northern areas could happen if cases numbers remain low

A man works at his post at a highway checkpoint near Green Lake, Sask., in the northwestern part of the province. (Don Somers/CBC)

Premier Scott Moe says strict travel restrictions that have locked down much of Saskatchewan's north — nearly half of the province's land mass — may come under discussion again with northern leaders "in the days ahead."

But Moe stressed that talks about potentially relaxing restrictions in some northern areas currently unaffected by COVID-19 — namely, north-central and northeast Saskatchewan — won't happen before the coming May long weekend.

"I think it is fair to say that if these numbers hold, we will have a discussion with northern leaders as well as with others on, 'Can we really focus our restrictions to where they need to be?'" Moe said Wednesday afternoon.

Moe said such conversations would also focus on what the restrictions initially set out to do, "which is to curb the spread of the COVID-19 virus and not impact those communities that aren't currently being impacted with infections."

The province's restrictions have come under attack for doing just that, including some from people barred from travelling to their cabins in the province's northeast. On Wednesday, Moe said there are currently no active cases of COVID-19 in the northeast or the central part of the north.

"They are concentrated into the northwestern region," he said. 

Prince Albert resident Nancy Loewen, who can't get to her cabin at Little Bear Lake, says she has written Moe to express her disappointment about the travel restrictions.

So has Christopher Sparling, who owns a cabin at Denare Beach. 

"In my view, the 'far north' is a huge expanse and should not be defined by nor administered to by what happens in one or two localized areas," Sparling wrote to the premier in a letter he also shared with CBC News.

Dean Foster, the owner of Buddha's Bait Shop in White Fox, has a trailer at a seasonal northern campsite. He said he's planning a protest next week on Highway 106 just south of a checkpoint near Smeaton, Sask. (He originally planned to hold it this Friday.)

He too said the restrictions are being too broadly applied. 

"Hopefully it won't have to happen," Foster said of his planned protest when informed of the potential talks flagged by Moe.

 

The travel restrictions, part of a revised public health order issued by Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, were announced by Moe on April 30.

The updated order outlawed all non-critical travel into and out of the Northern Saskatchewan Administrative District, which covers nearly half of the province but has a low population relative to the rest of Saskatchewan.

Below map showing the region affected by the restrictions. Don't see it? Click here. 

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The order also required northern residents to remain in their local communities, except for grocery runs and medical appointments, and to practise physical distancing.

On Wednesday, Moe defended those measures. 

"[The virus] was spreading into communities near [La Loche] and there was nervousness that it was spreading not only throughout the north but also into southern communities in the province as well," he said.

"I think with the numbers that we have seen since that public health order has been put in place, they are improving and we are starting to get to a much more manageable situation."

The province reported four new cases of COVID-19 Wednesday. All were in the La Loche area.

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

All-platform journalist for CBC Saskatoon

Story tips? guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

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