Sask.'s 3-step reopening plan relies on vaccinations, officials say

The Saskatchewan government has announced a three-step plan to gradually reopen the province, based on the percentage of vaccinated residents.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said the Reopening Roadmap will not work unless everyone gets vaccinated and continues to follow public health orders.

“Those are the two things we all need to do in order to move forward through the three steps of reopening so we can enjoy a great Saskatchewan summer and get back to normal," Moe said in a news release.

The Reopening Roadmap’s three steps rely on vaccine availability, vaccine uptake and the public’s adherence to health orders.

During the province’s COVID-19 press conference Tuesday, Moe said officials wanted to be “cautious” with the reopening plan and allow more time for vaccine uptake.

“We do need to wait just a few more weeks so that more people are able access their vaccines,” said Moe.

Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical health officer, said May and June will be “blockbuster months” for vaccine supply in the province.

Saskatchewan’s Pfizer allocations are scheduled to pick up dramatically throughout May and June. Deliveries will increase from 37,440 in the last week of April to 63,180 per week in May and 74,880 in June. The province is slated to get an additional 31,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine the week of May 10.

STEP ONE

Step One can begin once three weeks have passed since 70 per cent of people age 40 and over have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Currently, 65 per cent of people over 40 have received their first dose in Saskatchewan.

This step includes the reopening of restaurants and bars with a maximum of six people to a table.

The limit for indoor and outdoor private gatherings will be set at a maximum of 10 people, 30 people for public indoor gatherings and 150 people for public outdoor gatherings.

Current restrictions will remain in place for conference and banquet halls, casinos, bingo halls, movie theatres, art galleries and libraries.

The current province-wide mask mandate will remain in place.

The province estimates this step could begin in the last week of May.

STEP TWO

Step Two can begin three weeks after 70 per cent of people over 30 have received their first dose. Currently, 53 per cent of people over 30 have received their first doses.

In Step Two, capacity thresholds in retail spaces will be lifted. Restaurants and bars will not have a maximum capacity for tables.

The limit for private indoor gatherings will be a maximum of 15 people. The limit for public gatherings will be 150, both indoor and outdoor.

Restrictions will ease for conference and banquet halls, casinos, bingo halls, movie theatres, art galleries and libraries.

The current province-wide mask mandate will remain in place.

The province estimates this step could begin in the third week of June.

STEP THREE

Step Three will begin after 70 per cent of people over 18 have received their first dose. Most remaining restrictions will be lifted in Step Three.

Currently, 44 per cent of residents over 18 have received their first dose.

“Guidance on gathering sizes and indoor masking will be developed based on the progress of the first two steps,” the province’s plan reads.

The province estimates this step could begin in the second week of July.

70% VACCINATION THERESHOLD

The province is eyeing 70 per cent vaccination threshold for reopening, but Moe and Dr. Shahab expect the vaccination rates will keep rising.

“Seventy per cent isn’t where the vaccination effort will stop. It will go much higher than that and it is shown in our upper age groups going well beyond the 80 per cent vaccination rate,” said Moe.

Dr. Shahab said he hopes the vaccine uptake will continue to push to the 80 to 85 per cent mark.

Experts have said herd immunity is achieved when 60 to 80 per cent of a population acquires defences against the virus. However, the emergence of COVID-19 variants has pushed some to move the target to 85 or 90 per cent.

The premier said similar plans have worked in other jurisdictions. He repeatedly pointed to the U.K’s reopening plan. According to Moe, the U.K. started its phased reopening when 43 per cent of the population had received a single dose, then moved to its second phase when it reached 61 per cent.

While the U.K. – and now Saskatchewan – is using an single-dose approach, Israel and the U.S. have used a two-dose approach, meaning those countries had the vaccine supply to offer residents both doses as soon as possible.

“The countries that have access to a higher volume of vaccines went straight for a two-dose program, but the evidence from the U.K. and other jurisdictions show an extended one-dose program is also very good,” Dr. Shahab said.

Saskatchewan is the first Canadian province to introduce a vaccine-based reopening plan.

Health officials believe residents with their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine can expect their second dose in June.

Moe and Dr. Shahab didn’t say if an increase in case numbers and hospitalizations would trigger a reversal of the reopening, but the pair expects severe outcomes to decrease as vaccinations increase.

With files from CTVNews.ca’s Brooklyn Neustaeter