Saskatoon

COVID-19 in Sask: Premier threatens international travellers who don't self-isolate with arrest, fines

Scott Moe's stern warning to Saskatchewan came on the heels of Regina declaring its own state of emergency in response to the growing COVID-19 crisis.

Scott Moe says officers will have power to investigate and arrest

Premier Scott Moe announced new legal consequences for people in Saskatchewan who do not self-isolate after returning from international travel. (Michael Bell/Canadian Press)
  • As of Friday, Saskatchewan has reported 26 cases of COVID-19: 18 presumptive, eight confirmed by a lab in Winnipeg. 
  • Premier Scott Moe says 14-day self-isolation for all international travellers returning the province is now mandatory. That includes people returning from the United States.
  • Restaurants will be limited to takeout services starting on Monday. 
  • Grocery stores not affected. 
  • Financial help to those who must self-isolate is now on offer from the province.
  • Daycares in schools will be used to provide care to children of hospital workers and other "essential" COVID-19 front-line workers.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says any Saskatchewan resident returning from international travel (including the United States) who does not follow a now-mandatory order to self-isolate for 14 days may now face legal consequences, including fines and police intervention.

"It is truly my sincere hope that people will comply with this," Moe said. "Police forces — municipal, provincial or the RCMP — will have the ability to ensure that you do self-isolate, ensure they can levy fines or conduct an arrest to ensure that happens."

To further stress its new message, the province sent out an emergency text alert just after 4:30 p.m. CST warning of a potential $2,000 fine.

The text came in the hour after Scott Moe's news conference wrapped. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

By 5:20 p.m., the Saskatoon Police Service said it had begun to receive calls from people asking officers to arrest someone who was allegedly not self-isolating.

"We will take the caller's information and forward to [the provincial health ministry] once we have a reporting system in place," the service said in a tweet. 

Moe's extraordinary warning came during the province's latest update on the COVID-19 coronavirus — on the same day the City of Regina declared its own local state of emergency. 

6 new cases

At a news conference Friday afternoon, the province announced six new cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, bringing the total number of cases in the province to 26.

All but two of the cases are well enough to self-isolate at home. The other two are in hospital due to pre-existing illnesses.

After releasing few demographics about the four new cases reported Thursday, the province offered several details about the latest six cases. They were described as:

  • A person in their 20s who was tested in Regina following travel to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.
  • A person in their 20s who was tested in Regina following travel in the U.S.
  • A person in their 50s was tested in Regina following travel to Jordan.
  • Two people in their 60s who was tested in Prince Albert following travel from Arizona.
  • A person in their 60s who was tested in Regina.

Strict new province-wide measures

The province outlined strict new measures to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan, including:

  • A ban on public gatherings of 25 people in one room, except in places where people maintain a physical distance of two metres.
  • The closing of nightclubs, bars and lounges. Those facilities can offer takeout, as long as they respect the same two-metre distancing rule.  
  • The closing of all restaurants, food courts, cafeterias, cafes and bistros, effective Monday. They can offer takeout.
  • A now-mandatory order for anyone coming back to Saskatchewan from anywhere outside Canada (including the U.S.), as well any person flagged by the province as a close contact of a COVID-19 case, to self-isolate for 14 days. 

Health care workers who have travelled internationally, truckers, rail, airline or other working crews are exempt from the mandatory self-isolation order only if they're needed to carry out essential services, according to a news release issued in tandem with the latest COVID-19 update. 

"I'm particularly concerned about people who are coming back from foreign travel and not self-isolating," Moe said. 

Moe added that several of the new cases announced Friday are linked to international travel. 

"If you're coming back from international travel, you should act as if you have been exposed to the virus," Moe said. 

Moe also announced a new financial relief program for people who need to self-isolate and who are not already covered by recent federally announced employment insurance programs and other supports.

Full list of Monday closures

It's not just restaurants that will be forced to close to walk-in customers beginning on Monday.

So will:

  • Fitness centres.
  • Casinos.
  • Bingo halls.
  • Arenas. 
  • Curling rinks.
  • Swimming pools.
  • Galleries.
  • Theatres.
  • Museums.
  • All other recreational and entertainment facilities.

The government said the closure order also applies to "personal service facilities" including:

  • Tattooists.
  • Hairdressers.
  • Barbers.
  • Acupuncturists.
  • Acupressurists.
  • Cosmetologists.
  • Electrologists.
  • Estheticians.
  • Manicurists,
  • Pedicurists.
  • Suntanning parlours.
  • Relaxation masseuses.
  • Body piercers.

Dentist office will also have to close, except for non-elective procedures.

Grocery stores are not affected by Friday's announcement. 

Early details on Regina rules

Not long before the province's Friday update, the City of Regina declared its own state of emergency. The Saskatchewan government had already made that same declaration for the whole province on Wednesday.

Regina's new status appeared to bring an even more stringent cap on the number of people who can meet publicly: five, as opposed to the newly-instituted provincial cap on meetings of more than 25 people. 

Regina's solo declaration also means restaurants, bars and nightclubs in that city must limit their service to pickup and delivery immediately, not on Monday as the province has directed. 

Dental offices in the city must close except for emergency or essential procedures.

Sask NDP leader self-isolates

Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili said he and his wife Mahli Brindamour, who is a pediatrician, are self-isolating at home as a precautionary measure after Brindamour woke up Friday with a cough.

Meili's disclosure came during a virtual press conference hosted from his home Friday morning.

"We've changed our social distancing to self-isolation instead until she's able to get tested and be sure that she doesn't have COVID-19. So far so good."

Meili again called on the Scott Moe government to close all daycares in the province. 

"We could send our kids to a daycare, they get other kids exposed, they go home to their parents who get sick," he hypothesized.

"You're creating a model for the spread of COVID-19."

Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili said his wife woke up with a cough Friday so they are remaining in self-isolation at home until she gets a COVID-19 test result back. (Ryan Meili)

Daycare plans for kids of essential workers

The Saskatchewan government is making plans to reopen daycares attached to schools to provide care for the children of health care workers and other "essential" professionals needed to fight the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus in the province.

The government laid out early details of its plan to parents who use school-based daycares in a March 19 letter signed by Gerry Craswell, an assistant deputy minister in the education ministry, which is overseen by Gord Wyant.

"During these extraordinary times, we are looking for everyone to contribute to the support for the broad community response to the COVID-19 virus," the letter said. "One of the supports that is needed is a way to ensure that essential services and health care workers are able to continue to work to respond to the pandemic and are not impeded by a lack of child care."

The list of eligible people for what the government has termed "emergency and essential services child care" spaces includes:

  • Workers at primary care facilities, including hospitals and long-term care facilities.
  • Home care services employees. 
  • EMTs.
  • Child protection workers.
  • Residential services workers at the Ministry of Social Services.
  • Mental health workers.
  • COVID-19 lab test workers.
  • Workers at licensed child day care centres.
  • Workers who provide key services at SaskPower, SaskEnergy, SaskTel and in water and waste management.
  • "Employees directly related to providing essential services for police and fire."

"If the need arises, the list may change," according to the letter.

Daycares not located in schools continue to operate as normal, the government said. 

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Avoiding child clusters

Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, addressed the NDP's child care concerns during his daily COVID-19 news conference Thursday.

"Smaller daycares seem to be fine — five to seven people in someone's home," he said.

For larger daycares of 100 or more, he suggested splitting up kids and supervisors into different rooms "so that you always have only five or 10 people in a room and you don't mix around. All the kids go to one room every day and all the supervisors go to the same room so that it's like multiple smaller daycares." 

On Friday, the Ministry of Education confirmed each room should only have up to eight children in it. 

Call for greater transparency on COVID-19 cases

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) called on the provincial government to be more transparent about the location of people infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The FSIN, which represents 73 First Nations in the province, asked the Scott Moe government Friday to "release the locations of the COVID-19 confirmed and presumptive cases."

"This information is vital to the health and safety of the people in those areas, both First Nations and non-First Nations," FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said in a media release.  

"This information is vital to the health and safety of the people in those areas, both First Nations and non-First Nations," FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron said in a media release.   (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

In the early days of its response, the Saskatchewan health ministry released information on the age of each infected person, their recent travel history and which community they were tested in.

Here's what we know, based on that information, about the first eight reported cases in the province:

 

 

On Wednesday, when the number of COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan doubled from eight to 16, the province provided the following information on the eight new cases: 

  • A person in their 30s who was tested in Regina.
  • A person their 40s who was tested following close contact with a previously announced presumptive positive case in Saskatchewan.
  • A person in their 20s who was tested in Saskatoon following travel from Tennessee.
  • A person in their 20s who was tested in Saskatoon following travel to Oregon, Nevada and Edmonton.
  • A person in their 40s who was tested in Saskatoon following travel from Vancouver.
  • A person of unknown age who was tested in Moose Jaw after travel from Vancouver.
  • A person of unknown age who was tested in Regina following travel from Cancun, Mexico.
  • A person of unknown age who was tested in Regina following travel from Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

On Thursday — when the province reported four new cases of COVID-19 — the health ministry reported that "three of the four presumptive positive cases are related to travel and one is a close contact of a previously reported case."

The ministry also released a regional breakdown of the 20 cases so far, but that table did not identify specific communities aside from Saskatoon and Regina.

(Saskatchewan government)

"Other provinces are sharing this information and details of possible contacts and contamination," the FSIN said in its release.

At his daily press conference Thursday, Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, confirmed that one of the four new cases was Dr. Allan Woo, the president of the Saskatchewan Medical Association.

In his own social media post earlier in the day, Woo said he believed he was infected at a curling bonspiel that took place in Edmonton from March 11-14 and that he tested positive for the virus once back in Saskatchewan on Wednesday. Woo's practice is located in Saskatoon. 

Shahab said he's aware of two situations where a person visited a health facility, unannounced, and then later tested positive. 

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter and web writer for CBC Saskatoon

Story tips and ideas welcomed at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca