Sask. premier hints at lifting restrictions as COVID-19 cases begin to crest

Saskatchewan’s premier is hinting some COVID-19 restrictions could soon be lifted, saying current measures may have run their course.

Scott Moe made the comments while speaking to radio host John Gormley on 980 CJME Wednesday morning.

“In the next number of days, you’ll see some further communication around the existing public health orders or the existing restrictions we have in place and, in particular, those that are impacting our youth,” Moe said on the radio.

Specifically, the premier said officials would look at ending the close contact isolation requirements that keep students out of extra-curricular activities, adding the proof of vaccination requirement has also likely run its course.

“The goal is to remove all of these restrictions when we are able,” Moe said.

“It’s time for us, as a government, to manage COVID as we move forward, and it’s time for us, as a society, to understand that we are going to be living with COVID for some period of time,” Moe said.

Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, said proof of vaccination requirements worked well during the Delta wave, but now things are more “complex,” partly because a double dose of vaccine is not as effective against the Omicron variant.

“The data is clear that getting boosted is critical to further reduce your risk of severe outcomes, which is hospitalization,” Dr. Shahab said.

Shahab said jurisdictions across the country are at a point where they must decide to either update proof of vaccination requirements to include booster doses, or remove the requirements altogether if the Omicron surge dissipates. He said the decision is ultimately up to the government and how officials choose to navigate through the current surge.

“We have to change our policies and orders to adjust for changing realities,” said Shahab, who pointed to the recent reduction of the self-isolation period as an example of adjusting to the times.

“What we plan for two months from now certainly needs to be discussed.”

While doctors say a booster dose offers the best protection against Omicron, Dr. Satchan Takaya said two doses still minimize the impacts. For that reason, she said proof of vaccination plays an important role in controlling a surge in hospitalizations.

“We know that those people that progress to severe disease are those that are not vaccinated yet, Dr. Takaya said.

“Proof of vaccination still has a lot of value as long as the vaccine continues to work for the variants that we are facing and it continues to work right now.”

Instead of removing the vaccine requirements, epidemiologist Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine said the government should be expanding its definition of fully vaccinated to include booster doses.

While vaccination requirements are a temporary policy, Muhajarine said they should not be lifted until at least 85 per cent of the eligible population is fully vaccinated. As of Wednesday, 79 per cent of those five years and older had received their second dose.

“Lifting restrictions should not be driven by a calendar date,” Muhajarine said.

“I don’t think we are anywhere near putting Omicron behind us yet.”

The current public health order is set to expire at the end of February.

Muhajarine said the government should outline the metrics it is using to determine when restrictions will be removed. He suggests measures should remain in place until case numbers consistently drop over a two-week period, hospitalizations decrease and hospital capacity is sustainable.

“Musings from the premier about lifting restrictions are a grave concern,” Muhajarine said.

According to Dr. Shahab, test positivity shows case numbers are cresting and could peak later this week.

In the next two to four weeks, we should start to see case numbers decline. However, hospitalizations will continue to rise in that time period.

In the short term, Dr. Shahab said we need to “stay the course,” which includes limiting non-essential contacts.

“Even though we’re cresting and starting to come down, if we relax everything right away we will just rebound and that would not be good at all,” Shahab said.covid restruIn the long term, as we move forward, Dr. Shahab said Saskatchewan and other jurisdictions will have to find the best way to navigate out of the pandemic.

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