Sask. public health order extended to Jan. 31

Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 restrictions have been extended through the holiday season, to the end of January.

The province’s current public health order, introduced on Sept. 16, mandates mask use in indoor public spaces, including schools. It also requires proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for public access to a variety of locations.

According to a news release from the Government of Saskatchewan, the public health order will be reevaluated by Jan. 31.

Even as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations decline in the province, health officials said it’s not time to ease up on public health guidelines as they look to avoid a post-holiday season fifth wave.

Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said last week that restrictions would likely remain in place through the holiday season.

Moe said by the end of January the government will have a clear picture of the impact of the holiday season on COVID-19 transmission in Saskatchewan.

“We’re in a much better situation this Christmas season than we were last Christmas season,” Moe said. “One year ago today, virtually no one in our province was vaccinated. Today, nearly 900,000 Saskatchewan residents are vaccinated.”

He said residents can get together and travel over the holidays but are encouraged to exercise caution and diligence.

Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine, an epidemiologist in Saskatoon, says the public health order needed to be extended. However, he wanted the province to go one step further by adding more restrictions.

He is tracking the virus in Europe and says countries like Austria and Denmark are seeing another surge in cases, likely due to waning immunity. He expects the same thing to happen in Saskatchewan.

He says he would have liked the provincial government to put limits on gatherings over the holidays.

“This is the time that a little bit more would have helped us to ensure that we don’t get into a fifth wave,” Muhajarine said.

“The pressure on hospitals has been relieved, but it has not completely returned to the sustainable state that we want to see.”

Now that many residents are approaching the six-month mark since receiving their second dose, Muhajarine expects to see immunity wane. That coupled with complacency, he says extra measures are needed to stave off a post-holiday surge.

NDP deputy leader Nicole Sarauer says she is pleased with the public health order extension, calling the current measures “adequate.” However, she says the party will push for further restrictions if case numbers surge again.

“With COVID, everything changes day to day,” Sarauer said.

“We’re going to keep monitoring it just like everybody else to ensure that (measures) remain adequate.”

Premier Moe says the order will be reviewed in the last few weeks of January and could be extended.