Sask. aims to outpace rise of COVID-19 variants with vaccines

Amanda Parsons, a registered nurse on staff at the Northwood Care facility, prepares a dose of the Moderna vaccine to Halifax on Jan. 11, 2021. (Andrew Vaughan-Pool / THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is doubling down on proclaiming vaccines – not public health measures – are the province’s ticket out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The province stopped short of establishing new restrictions for southern parts of the province on Tuesday, amid mounting COVID-19 variant cases. In place of more measures, the government urged residents to take precautions and expressed confidence vaccination rates will increase.

“I've always said that public health measures are nothing more than a stopgap to buy us time until such time that we get the majority of Saskatchewan residents vaccinated,” said Moe during the province’s weekly COVID-19 press conference.

The province’s vaccination strategy is currently targeting residents age 50 and older, healthcare workers, people living in long-term care and individuals who are immunocompromised.

Last week in a radio interview, Moe said 80 per cent of Regina’s active cases were in people younger than 50.

On Tuesday, the premier said the rising number of young people catching COVID-19 “speaks to the fact that the vaccines are working.”

“We do have our long-term care residents, ultimately all of them have one shot,” said Moe. “And the vast majority now have had their second shot, and we aren't seeing outbreaks in our long-term care homes.”

NO NEW HEALTH MEASURES FOR MOOSE JAW

COVID-19 numbers in Moose Jaw and surrounding areas are rising due to variants of concern.

The South Central zone had 56 presumed variant cases one week ago, compared to 118 Tuesday.

Variant cases in the Southeast zone have also doubled in the past week, climbing from 43 to 107.

The province’s chief medical health officer said Moose Jaw is on “red alert” but did not prescribe increased measures for the city. Dr. Saqib Shahab and the premier instead asked for residents to consider the restrictions in place and adopt additional measures – similar to those imposed in Regina – on their own.

“People in Moose Jaw should really look at the Regina order and guidelines and try to emulate that,” said Dr. Shahab.

According to Moe, right now the province wants to manage the infection rate of COVID-19 to protect hospitals.

“The goal is to not move on additional measures. The goal is to keep COVID at a level that it isn't overburdening our provincial health care system,” said Moe.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority said as of Tuesday afternoon, ICU capacity in the province was at 67 per cent – with COVID-19 patients in 35 of the 75 available beds.

Moe said he continues to have “faith in the people of this province” – a line regularly heard during the provincial press conferences – and believes COVID-19 rates can be curbed without restrictions.

“There's no government in this nation – around the world – that wants to close businesses or to limit the opportunity for people to go to work, people to go to recreational opportunities or limit kids going to school, said Moe. “That's never the goal, it's never been this government's goal, [and] we've never shied away from saying so.”

NDP Health Critic Vicki Mowat said the government is ignoring the warning signs.

“The virus moves at its own speed and we need to move faster to keep people safe,” Mowat said in a press release.

SASK. AIMS TO DOUBLE VACCINATIONS

With increasing case numbers, the province is focusing on speeding up the rate of vaccinations.

Officials said they are hoping to get 180,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine into the arms of Saskatchewan residents in the next 15 to 20 days.

As of Tuesday, 184,436 doses of vaccine had been given since the campaign started in December.

An additional 55,000 AstraZeneca vaccines will arrive in Saskatchewan in the next two to three weeks. According to Moe, those doses will be put to use at drive-thru clinics in Regina, Weyburn, Moose Jaw, Yorkton and Saskatoon.

The premier said new recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunizations – which state the AstraZeneca vaccine should not be used on people under 55 – will not impact the province’s vaccine plan.

With files from The Canadian Press and CTV Regina’s Marc Smith