Coronavirus: Saskatchewan passes emergency legislation to deal with COVID-19, delays budget

Coronavirus outbreak: Saskatchewan health official says province is ‘moving in the right direction’
WATCH: Saskatchewan health official says province is "moving in the right direction."

Saskatchewan has two confirmed and six presumptive cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

The new numbers were announced Tuesday as the province passed emergency legislation to protect workers and said it was delaying its 2020-21 budget.

READ MORE: Public schools in Saskatchewan closing amid coronavirus concerns

The latest case involves a resident in their 50s who was tested in Regina after travelling to Vancouver.

The individual is self-isolating at home, public health officials said, adding they are following up with individuals who had close contact with this person.

The province’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, said results are pending in 46 other cases among the 1,107 tests performed as of March 16.

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He added that all cases to date in the province are travel-related and asked everyone returning to the province from international travel to self-isolate.

Shahab added people need to continue practising social distancing for the next several weeks, if not months.

READ MORE: Supreme Court postpones federal carbon tax challenge in response to coronavirus

It comes as emergency legislation was passed in the legislature on Tuesday to deal with COVID-19 by amending the Saskatchewan Employment Act.

Saskatchewan passes emergency legislation to deal with COVID-19
Saskatchewan passes emergency legislation to deal with COVID-19

The new measures allow workers in Saskatchewan to miss up to 14 days of work without being penalized by their employers.

It is meant to protect workers who may not have sick days, and allow them to take time off due to a public health emergency as defined by the World Health Organization without any repercussions.

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“No one should lose their job for continuing to prioritize health and safety during this public health emergency,” Labour Relations Minister Don Morgan said in a statement.

It is retroactive to March 6.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan air travellers respond to coronavirus border closures

Also on Tuesday, Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said she is delaying the full budget, but will table spending estimates.

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“The budget estimates will contain spending increases in most areas, including a significant increase in health funding,” Finance Minister Donna Harpauer said in a statement.

“It includes a significant lift to the Saskatchewan Health Authority, which funds the doctors, nurses and other health professionals who are on the front line of the fight against COVID-19.”

Harpauer said events of the past few weeks have resulted in the government’s revenue forecasts no longer being accurate.

“Given the rapidly changing situation, accurate revenue forecasts are not possible right now,” she said.

“However, we need to move forward with the government’s spending plan for the upcoming year, so we are taking the unusual step of tabling spending estimates without the revenue forecasts.. Once the situation has become more stable, we will release a financial update including revenue forecasts.”

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There are currently two confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, in Saskatchewan and five presumptive cases.

The Saskatchewan NDP had called on the government to take a number of steps to address the COVID-19 situation in the province, including delaying the budget.

Opposition leader Ryan Meili said along with delaying the budget on Wednesday, the government needs to develop a plan to respond to the current pandemic.

“As things change so quickly, we need to have a government that’s responding quickly as well,” Meili said in a statement.

“The time to act is now.”

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As the number of COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan rises slightly, the province continues with preparations to close all public schools by March 20.

The government said a response planning team is working through the logistics of the school closures.

“I have every confidence in our partners in education that they will make the best possible recommendations as we transition students out of Saskatchewan Prekindergarten to Grade 12 classrooms,” Education Minister Gordon Wyant said in a statement Tuesday.

“The government of Saskatchewan is committed to supporting our students and staff in these uncertain times.”

READ MORE: Saskatchewan Polytechnic looking to put classes online

The team is made up of individuals from the Ministry of Education, the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, the Saskatchewan School Boards Association, the Saskatchewan Association of School Business Officials and the Saskatchewan League of Educational Administrators, Directors and Superintendents.

Officials said planning is underway to ensure students have access to supplementary learning, either through distance opportunities or take-home resource kits.

They are also looking at logistics for backroom functions such as staff assignments and payroll.

The response planning team meets again Tuesday.

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Classes continue to wind down and the government said parents who are able to keep their children at home should do so now, with no absence or grade impacts.

Officials said every student will receive a final grade based on their current grade and they will progress to their next grade level for the 2020-21 school year.

Every student eligible to graduate from Grade 12 will do so, they added.

Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

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Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.

Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.

To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.