Most Saskatchewan residents will only be allowed to mingle indoors with people they live with starting Thursday, the province announced via a news release.
As COVID-19 cases continue rising across Saskatchewan, the provincial government is implementing further public health restrictions throughout the next couple of weeks.
“We know that much of the community transmission continues to occur in our household settings. As a result, this needs to be a different kind of Christmas,” Premier Scott Moe said during a news conference Monday afternoon.
“It’s a little bit of Buckley’s. It doesn’t taste very good, but it is necessary to preserve the capacity we have in our health-care system. It’s absolutely necessary for us to preserve the economic activity… but also the opportunity for us to recover.”
Starting 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 17, private indoor gatherings will be limited to household members only.
There are a few exceptions. People living alone can meet with one household that has less than five people living in it. Co-parenting arrangements are allowed to continue. Caregivers and support services workers are still allowed in a home as well.
Outdoor gatherings will be capped at 10 people, assuming that physical distancing between people from different homes can be maintained.
“We have to reimagine the holidays, just like we did over Easter,” said Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer. “We need to stick to our household for the most part, but stay connected through other means.”
More rules coming Dec. 19, Dec. 25
On Saturday, Dec. 19, casinos and bingo halls will have to shut down.
Personal services such as hair salons, massage therapy and tattoo parlours will only be allowed to operate at half capacity, the province says, adding that staff are included in that capacity.
Event venues, such as conference halls, arenas, museums and movie theatres, can still host events with up to 30 people. During the events, all guests must be seated. Food and drink are not permitted “unless explicitly stated in the order,” the province said.
Starting Christmas Day, retail services will be reduced to half capacity and large retail locations — retailers with an area larger than 20,000 square feet — will be reduced to 25 per cent capacity.
These public health orders will be reviewed by Shahab four weeks after they’re implemented.
Small- to medium-sized businesses impacted by the public health order can apply for the Saskatchewan Small Business Emergency Payment (SSBEP), assuming they’re eligible, said Moe.
The SSBEP is for small businesses in Saskatchewan that have been ordered to close temporarily or “substantially curtail operations” during December 2020 because of a public health order. Financial assistance is based on 15 per cent of a business’ monthly sales revenue, but eligible businesses can receive up to $5,000 and put that money toward anything.
Opposition leader calls announcement ‘chaotic’
Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili called the new measures announced Monday “chaotic,” and questioned what the Moe government is basing its decision-making on.
“It’s never clear what standards the government is using for decisions, what the next steps will be, or even when those decisions will be made,” Meili said in a statement issued to news media.
“This government’s chaotic, wait-and-see approach has led to lockdown measures that are at once more severe and less effective.”
Meili expressed confusion over why some school divisions have taken the step to move to remote learning, yet bars and restaurants remain open.
He also called out the government for contradicting itself by telling residents to stay home, but also to shop local, and waiting until the Christmas Day to implement new retail measures.
“One wonders why, if these measures aren’t necessary now at the busiest time of the year, Scott Moe sees them as necessary at all?”
Most cases still linked to private gatherings
The announcement of new public health rules came shortly after public health officials announced two more COVID-related deaths in Saskatchewan.
Both residents were at least 80 years old. They lived in the Saskatoon and north west zones.
There have now been 91 COVID-19 deaths in Saskatchewan since the pandemic hit the province last March. Thirty-one of those deaths have come within the last week.
Public health officials also announced 269 new COVID-19 cases Monday, pushing the total of known active cases to 4,380.
During Monday’s news conference, Shahab offered more data outlining the current COVID-19 situation in further detail.
“Even though we are not seeing the outbreaks that were happening in October and early November, we are still seeing significant transmission in the household settings, and in the in-between places,” said Shahab, adding that some cases are linked to people not physical distancing during a meal, for example.
Last week, 94 COVID-19 cases were linked to household exposure, according to the data Shahab presented Monday. Of the cases announced last week, 911 still have pending exposure information.
There are 63 active COVID-19 outbreaks linked to workplaces, and four active outbreaks linked to house gatherings as of Dec. 13, the data says.
Shahab pointed to COVID-19 spread at Saskatchewan care homes as another significant factor in case numbers remaining high, and increasing COVID-19 deaths.
Read the data Dr. Shahab presented Monday:
As of Dec. 13, there are 32 active COVID-19 outbreaks at long-term and personal care homes and hospitals. There are seven active outbreaks at communal or congregate living facilities, such as group and retirement homes, the data says.
Shahab presented a line graph that compares the seven-day average of new cases of several provinces, including Saskatchewan, that notes when new public health measures were implemented.
The province receives feedback supporting and criticizing the measures taken, Shahab said. While the province follows the actions of various jurisdictions, Saskatchewan “can’t just follow another province blindly.”
Despite the surge of cases this fall, Moe feels his government has weathered the pandemic well thus far.