'This will continue to spread': Saskatoon ICU doc says fight against COVID-19 variants requires 'aggressive' tactics

ICU physician Dr. Hassan Masri is calling on the province to change its vaccine strategy to help address climbing COVID-19 variant cases in Saskatoon.

“We need to be proactive, we need to be aggressive,” he said.

While Regina has been the Saskatchewan epicentre for variant of concern cases, Saskatoon is also beginning to see a steady increase.

As of Wednesday, Saskatoon variant cases have reached 178, up from 18 on March 29.

The nine-day rise represents a near 900 per cent increase in reported variant cases.

Masri said he isn’t surprised by the surge.

“People have developed pandemic fatigue, so they’re less likely to follow the orders so they will be out there exposing each other,” Masri said.

“I think that as long as we continue to think that this is a regional problem, this will continue to spread under our noses and it will force us to have more extreme measures.”

According to Masri, more and more young people are ending up in hospital with COVID-19 because they are out working and have a greater risk of exposure.

That’s why he said it’s important to “aggressively” vaccinate essential workers, like people working at grocery stores and coffee shops.

“Our original plan is good, but it does not mean it can’t be better. And it doesn’t mean it cannot be adjusted to protect those who are serving us and putting their lives literally on the line to make sure that we have grocery, that we have coffee, that we have food,” he said.

Health Minister Paul Merriman said he is confident in the province’s vaccine plan.

He said Saskatchewan continues to lead the country in its vaccination efforts, pointing to how 55 per cent of Saskatchewan residents over the age of 60 have now received their first shot.

“We are continuously evolving what we are looking at ... The age-based sequence is still the best way at getting the most vaccines out. That’s been proven over the last 90 days, that’s why we’re able to lead the country,” Merriman said.

The B.1.1.7 or U.K. variant accounts for nearly all of the 951 cases in Saskatchewan where the strain has been positively identified.

Health officials say the variant can potentially spread faster than the original coronavirus strain.

A study released earlier in March also showed the B.1.1.7 variant may result in a higher rate of death than the original novel coronavirus strain.

Saskatoon resident April Kemp-Adam said she is worried.

“They’re saying it’s the age between 20 and 40 and I have a daughter in that age group as well as nieces so I’m very concerned for them,” she told CTV News.

Another resident, Casia Friesen, said she is more concerned about her parents or grandparents getting infected with the variant than she is about herself, but that she worries about another lockdown.

“I just don’t want us to relapse again and us going into full shutdown,” she said.

Merriman said as of now, the province doesn’t plan on implementing further restrictions in Saskatoon similar to the ones in Regina.

“(The variants) are moving across the province but that’s why we’re rolling out our vaccines, that’s why we’ve increased our vaccines, that’s why we just opened the drive thru in Saskatoon is to get more people vaccinated, so we’re addressing that,” he said.

Masri said adding restrictions is only one piece of the puzzle.

He said in addition to altering the vaccine strategy, placing more of a focus on rapid testing at schools and large companies can also help curb the spread.