Voting during a pandemic is like grocery shopping, says Saskatchewan medical officer

Dr. Saqib Shahab, chief medical officer of Saskatchewan, and Health Minister Jim Reiter (right) address the public on March 11 regarding the novel coronavirus. Mickey Djuric / Global News

Saskatchewan’s chief medical officer recommends that people avoid shaking hands if a snap election is called in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The election itself is like grocery shopping,” said Dr. Saqib Shahab. “Even if you have a pandemic, you still have to go grocery shopping. You shouldn’t go if you’re sick. Maybe get someone else to do the groceries.”

His comments came on the same day that the World Health Organization called the novel coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic and a Saskatoon jail went under quarantine following a potential COVID-19 contact.

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The government of Saskatchewan has been weighing the option to call an early election, which has come under scrutiny from health officials and the province’s opposition.

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“Why would you introduce something that brings people into more social contact in a time where events are getting cancelled and people are emphasizing more social distancing?” asked Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili.

Globally, measures are being taken to practise social distancing. The NBA has suspended its season after a player tested positive for the virus, and U.S. President Donald Trump has banned all mainland flights from Europe to the United States for 30 days.

“There’s zero business case, from a public health point of view, of introducing a massive public event that’s not already scheduled,” Meili said.

Saskatchewan’s 29th general election is scheduled for Oct. 26, but Premier Scott Moe has hinted that residents will head to the polls this spring. Moe and Health Minister Jim Reiter both accused the NDP of “fearmongering” and politicizing the issue.

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If an election were to be called, Shahab recommends there should be “no handshaking, and social distancing rules should apply.”

He added that if a person is considered at “high risk” of contracting the novel coronavirus disease, they ought to avoid social gatherings related to an election.

People at high risk of contracting the disease include seniors as well as those with diabetes, heart disease and lung disease.

As of Wednesday, 204 people have been tested for COVID-19 in Saskatchewan. Of those, 202 test results came back negative, while two other tests are pending. 

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