REGINA — Premier Scott Moe has announced that Saskatchewan will be seeing a new slate of COVID-19 measures, as a response to a rising fourth-wave of infections in the province.
Moe shared preliminary details of the incoming public health measures in a video posted to his social media on Thursday afternoon, prior to joining a press conference with chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab to expand with details.
Beginning Friday, Saskatchewan residents will again be required to wear face masks in all indoor public places. Moe said the policy is currently considered temporary, and will be re-evaluated in October.
Youth will be exempt from wearing a mask while playing sports, said Moe, although masks will be required on the sidelines and while entering facilities.
Additionally, despite previous insistence from the premier that Sask. would not be implementing vaccine passports, a proof of vaccination policy is also set to begin on Oct. 1.
Non-essential services will require either proof of vaccination or a recent negative COVID-19 test in order to allow access, with the exception of children under the age of 12 years old.
Restaurants and nightclubs, event venues including movie theatres and museums, and indoor fitness centres will be asking for proof of vaccination.
Those who are exempt from the policy will be retail businesses, places of worship, health care services, hotels, amateur sporting venues and private gatherings.
Provincial government employees, including staff at Crown corporations, will also be required to be vaccinated beginning in October, or provide continuous negative COVID-19 test results as an alternative.
No restrictions on gathering sizes were included in the announcement.
Saskatchewan case numbers reached an all-time high this week, with the province reporting a total of 508 new cases on Tuesday — the highest daily case count recorded since the pandemic began.
The majority of new cases continue to be in individuals who are unvaccinated, or only partially vaccinated, according to data from the provincial dashboard.
With the province’s vaccination rate continuing to be the lowest in the country, Moe said that implementing proof of vaccination policies is one way that officials hope to boost vaccination numbers.
He added that vaccines will not be mandated, as residents have the choice of instead providing test results.
There are approximately 450,000 unused vaccine doses in the province currently, said Moe. Shahab questions the logic of the statistic, issuing a critical statement of those opposing vaccination for reasons other than medical.
“I would just question why, with the worst pandemic we’ve seen in a hundred years, vaccine uptake is so low,” said Shahab. “We have a third of the population mired in conspiracy theories [and] I think anyone who is deep into misinformation needs to course correct themselves, or their families [need to].”
The province is aiming to launch a verifiable vaccination record on Sept. 20, which will feature a QR code for residents and a platform to scan codes to see data.
Moe responded to criticism that the province did not respond appropriately in the weeks following the July lifting of restrictions.
“We make the decisions we make with the information that we have at that point in time,” said Moe. “And we make them to preserve the healthcare capacity that we have.”
The announcements follow similar changes made in Alberta yesterday, where Premier Jason Kenney once again declared a state of emergency due to COVID-19.
Opposition critiques late action, call for Premier’s resignation
Following the premier’s announcement, Sask NDP leader Ryan Meili also issued a statement criticizing Moe for “copying Jason Kenney’s ‘too-little, too late’ plan.”
The official opposition applauded the implementation of a masking mandate, but said the provincial government dragged its heels for too long to put measures in place.
“He ignored the increasingly desperate voices of ordinary people, teachers, doctors and nurses, the pandemic chiefs, medical health officers from across the province,” said a written statement from Meili.
Meili called on Moe to issue an apology to Saskatchewan residents, or to tender his resignation.
For more news and information on the coronavirus and COVID-19, visit https://www.sasktoday.ca/coronavirus-covid-19-information