New COVID-19 restrictions suspend sports, extend mandatory masking to schools

Sports competition is suspended and gatherings at restaurants are being further limited under new COVID-19 restrictions announced by Saskatchewan on Wednesday. 

Changes also include new limits for restaurants, weddings, funerals and recreational venues like casinos

Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab speaks during an update on COVID-19. (Michael Bell/Canadian Press)

Sports competition is suspended and gatherings at restaurants are being further limited under new COVID-19 restrictions announced by Saskatchewan on Wednesday. 

Limits on private gatherings like weddings and funerals, along with places of worship, will also be introduced. 

Premier Scott Moe said he does not believe a full lockdown is "imminent" because he thinks the restrictions will make a difference. 

"Our goal is to not shut down businesses, services and activities that ultimately put people out of work and at times threaten their mental health," Moe said at a news conference on Wednesday. 

"Our goal is to find ways for those things to operate and to do so safely so that people can continue to participate in athletics and continue working."

Starting 12:01 a.m. on Friday, no more than four people will be allowed to sit together at a table at a restaurant, and tables will need to be separated by three metres unless there are "impermeable barriers" between them, in which case they can be placed two metres apart. 

Restaurants will also need to keep information about guests or patrons.

All team sports and group activities are suspended, but athletes and dancers 18 years old and under may keep practising in groups of eight or fewer if they use masks and practise physical distancing. Fitness activities in groups of eight or less are still allowed, with conditions.

All places of worship must reduce capacity to 30 people, and no food or drink can be served. Mandatory non-medical masking is being extended to apply to all students, employees and visitors at schools. 

All employees and visitors in common areas in businesses and workplaces, even where the public does not have access, also have to wear a mask.

All residents, employees and visitors in all common areas in provincial and municipal correctional facilities will also have to wear a mask.

Capacity will be restricted to 30 people at casinos, bingo halls, arenas, live theatres, movie theatres, performing arts venues and other facilities that currently have a capacity of 150 people.

Indoor gatherings such as banquets, weddings, funerals, conferences will also have a limit of 30 people, and food and beverage service will be prohibited. 

The limit for private indoor gatherings will remain at five but the province said "gatherings of any size beyond your immediate household are strongly discouraged at this time."

The government announcement was initially scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, but was postponed for a day.

Saskatchewan COVID-19 case numbers continue to climb, with nearly 3,000 known active cases across the province as of Tuesday. More than 100 people are in hospital, including 20 in intensive care units.

A food bank, a safe consumpion site and other services for Saskatoon's vulnerable population have been shuttered after positive cases. Many schools are operating on reduced schedules or have closed. The virus is spreading rapidly through urban and rural care homes, northern villages, First Nations and elsewhere.

Premier Scott Moe is self-isolating after a potential recent exposure in a Prince Albert restaurant. Fred Sasakamoose, a member of the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation and one of the first Indigenous hockey players to make it to the NHL, died this week after contracting COVID.

Last weekend, Moe said he was against a full lockdown of the province, stating it would be disastrous for the economy.

Last week, the province made masks mandatory in indoor public spaces across the province and restricted indoor private gatherings in people's homes to five people.

Visits to long-term and personal care homes were also suspended in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus to vulnerable people.

On Tuesday, Alberta announced its latest plans to limit the spread of the virus. Premier Jason Kenney said all indoor gatherings would no longer be allowed and Grade 7 to 12 students would switch to online learning from Nov. 30 to the end of their winter break.

Only 10 people will be allowed to be present at weddings and funerals in Alberta. Banquet halls, auditoriums and children's play spaces will be closed.

Moe said Saskatchewan residents need to "slow down a little bit" but a return to the tighter restrictions on businesses like those introduced earlier in the pandemic is not needed.  

"The overwhelming majority of Saskatchewan businesses and their employees in this province are operating safely day to day so it would be terribly unfair and it would have a huge negative impact close down all of those businesses and put thousands of Saskatchewan people out of work," said Moe. 

The premier said the province is considering compensation for industries affected by the pandemic, calling it an "active conversation." 

He would not say which sectors the province is currently in discussions with. 

"I don't have a date on when we will be moving forward or if we will be moving forward with a compensation package, but we are working with those sectors to understand how today's recommendations … are going to impact them," said Moe.  

"And how to ensure that our local small business, our restaurant sector for example, and others, are there when we come out the backside of this pandemic."

Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab and Moe said more restrictions could be needed if case numbers do not fall. 

What's yours? CBC Saskatchewan wants to hear how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted you. Share your story with our online questionnaire.

with files be Jason Warick


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