Saskatchewan has flattened the curve.
That was the message Premier Scott Moe delivered to residents across the province Wednesday. He also said a plan to reopen Saskatchewan through a five-phase approach — set to begin in May — would be detailed Thursday.
During the address, Premier Moe thanked the people of Saskatchewan, first responders, health-care workers and many others for their part in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The last few weeks have been difficult for everyone,” said Moe. “This is not how things are supposed to be. People are meant to be together. It’s against our very nature to stay apart. But by doing so, we protected ourselves, our families, our neighbours and our province.”
Watch Moe’s entire speech here:
Moe said the success is due to hard work by everyone in Saskatchewan, saying the province “learned how to pull together by staying apart.”
With that success comes hope for the future, he said.
“I think we can begin to provide a bit of optimism, and a roadmap for businesses and services to gradually reopen and allow for more people to return to work.”
The province currently has a serious outcome rate — a stat tracking things like hospitalizations or deaths from COVID-19 — 90 per cent below the national average, Moe said, with roughly 70 per cent fewer total cases in the province than the per-capita Canadian average.
However, Moe stressed that the only way to keep case numbers low while reopening the province is to proceed with “great caution.”
“Our government takes this decision extremely seriously,” Moe said.
“If we move too quickly, we risk increasing the spread of COVID-19. If we move too slowly, we risk permanent damage to the livelihoods of thousands of Saskatchewan people. Businesses that never reopen, and jobs that never come back.”
Meili calls for focus on people
NDP Opposition Leader Ryan Meili issued a statement prior to Moe’s speech, saying his party wants to see a COVID-19 plan that puts the focus on people.
The NDP is calling on the government to invest in front-line care, use local workers and companies to construct Saskatchewan infrastructure projects, and have Crown Corporations employ more local workers to expand renewable energy and high-speed Internet.
“We all want to get back to normal life,” Meili said in the statement, noting how the last few weeks have been hard on many in Saskatchewan.
“That our health-care system is ready, with protective equipment, with testing, with enough capacity to respond to new cases. And we need to make sure the supports are in place for workers, for families and for the most vulnerable in our province.”
Following the address, Meili told CBC News at Six host Sam Maciag the pandemic has identified numerous vulnerabilities in Saskatchewan, but more information is needed before determining whether or not the reopening is happening too soon.
“Everything depends on the details and on continuing to watch what happens coming forward. It’s absolutely not too soon for us to be thinking about the future and it’s definitely not too soon for us to be investing in people now,” he said.
“What matters is that steps that are taken are safe steps and we that make the choices, not just in how we protect ourselves health wise … but also how we invest in people so that coming out of this, people are going to be doing OK during the pandemic and that our economy will rebound coming out of it,” Meili said.
Reopening plan to be gradual
Moe said that on Thursday, the province will release the five-phase plan “to gradually and methodically” reopen businesses and public services, noting it has been developed in close consultation with Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer.
Moe said the province will closely monitor the number of COVID-19 cases and make adjustments to the reopening plan as required, noting those going back to work will be returning to a different world.
“As businesses are allowed to reopen and employees return to work, they will have to follow stringent physical distancing and cleaning procedures, just like the grocery stores and other businesses that are open and operating safely today,” said Moe.
Some restrictions — like those on travel, large gatherings and seniors care homes — will remain in place for the “foreseeable future,” Moe said.
“It’s not like flipping on a light switch,” Moe said. “If anything, it’s more like a dimmer switch that’s been turned down … over the next several weeks, we will gradually be turning up the light once again on Saskatchewan’s economy.”
Expert says now is the time to talk about reopening
Dr. Anne Huang, a former deputy medical health officer in Saskatchewan, said she feels it is the right time to start talking about reopening the province, as it’s done a “great job” in flattening the curve.
She says if the reopen plan is introduced now, it could help avoid a collision with the province’s flu season while giving people a chance to practise physical distancing in the great outdoors.
However, she noted she didn’t hear Premier Moe detail any information about the need to reinstate restrictions on things like travel. While Saskatchewan currently has the benefit of federal restrictions on things like border control and reductions in air travel, more cases may emerge locally once these wider restrictions are lifted.
Huang said the government could improve on the testing front, saying she’d like to see a shift from a passive testing process to a more active “case-finding” strategy.
“At the moment, we’re relying on people to call 811 and to get referred,” she said. “We should be actively testing essential-service workers, not just health-care workers, but grocery store cashiers, our police, our firemen, our farmers.”
Huang also noted that once antibody kits become available in the coming months, it will help governments determine their next steps.
“It will give us a sense of how many people might have been infected and what proportion of them may already be immune to COVID-19,” she said.
Huang also said the new cases in Saskatchewan’s far north may potentially be the result of a new cluster of COVID-19 that’s spreading, so she said it’s critical to ensure Saskatchewan residents are well-informed and are given a clear idea of what would cause restrictions to be reinstated.
As of Wednesday afternoon, there have been a total of 326 cases of COVID-19 in the province, with 61 currently listed as active and 261 listed as recovered. A total of four people have died.