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Saskatoon city council passes special measures to deal with COVID-19 pandemic

Click to play video 'Saskatoon city council passes special measures to deal with COVID-19 pandemic' Saskatoon city council passes special measures to deal with COVID-19 pandemic
WATCH: Saskatoon city council and staff have been making major decisions quickly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic – Mar 19, 2020

Saskatoon city councillors have passed a number of measures, including free transit, as they deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Starting Friday, anyone using Saskatoon Transit will get on buses through the back doors and fares waived to prevent interaction with drivers. Transit also reminds riders to keep a safe distance — at least one metre — from bus operators and fellow riders. People who require mobility devices will be exempt from entering the rear doors.

READ MORE: Number of COVID-19 cases in Saskatchewan rises to 20

Coun. Bev Dubois said waiving fares will have a minimal financial impact on the city.

“A lot of folks do have bus passes so you know that wouldn’t reduce revenue for the city, but if folks don’t have bus passes, they can still ride the bus and it will be free,” Dubois said.

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“The next 24 to 48 hours are critical and we really just are wanting people to help out in any way that they can in order for us to get over this large hump we’ve all been put into.”

Utility disconnections for people in arrears have been suspended until Sept. 30.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan declares state of emergency as coronavirus concerns grow

Late payment charges are also suspended to the end of September and the city will continue to generate utility bill reminders and other related notices for customers who are in arrears to keep them informed of their current situation.

The 2020 property tax notices will be delivered by the end of May 2020. On notices, a homeowner’s due date will still show as June 30, 2020. However, the city is extending a three-month grace period. People will not incur any penalties on 2020 taxes if your property tax payment is made in full before Sept. 30.

Late payment charges are also suspended to the end of September and property owners have until Sept. 30 to pay their property tax without penalty.

Property owners participating in the city’s lead pipe replacement program will be allowed to have the city pay the contractor for the cost of pipe replacement.

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The cost will be added to the homeowner’s property tax bill interest-free, with payments deferred for one year to 2021 to provide additional relief.

Saskatoon Mayor Charlie Clark said the big focus for the city at this time is on the vulnerable and homeless population, and those facing economic challenges.

“We want to work with residents who are facing this,” he said.

“We’re asking residents to reach out if they’re stressed or if they’re facing any of these challenges.”

READ MORE: City of Saskatoon closes all facilities amid pandemic, including city hall

Parking restrictions for the residential parking program zones are suspended effective immediately. In addition, overtime parking on all residential streets will no longer be enforced.

Public safety-related parking restrictions remain in effect to maintain emergency access and traffic flow including:

  • “No Stopping” signs;
  • “No Parking” signs;
  • “Accessible Parking” signs;
  • Fire Hydrants (maintain one metre from the centre of a fire hydrant);
  • No parking within 10 metres of an intersection; and
  • No parking in alleys unless active loading/unloading is taking place.

The city announced on Wednesday that all of its facilities, including city hall, will be closed until further notice, but Clark said this will not impact services in the city.

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“We’re going to keep the water running and the power running and the people’s wastewater services in place, garbage collection and transit, because we see how important all of these are so that people can carry on and live their lives,” he said.

The decision to close city hall has resulted in the following:

  • All building and plumbing inspections are suspended while the city explores options to provide inspections in a safe manner;
  • Residential applications are limited to online;
  • Property Information Disclosure (PID) applications accepted via building.standards@saskatoon.ca;
  • Plumbing permit applications accepted via plumbing.permits@saskatoon.ca;
  • Payments will be accepted via telephone at 306.975.2645; and
  • New commercial permit applications will not be accepted. The city is exploring opportunities to provide online access to this program.

For updates, people can check the city’s Building Standards webpages regularly if there are service limitations.

Saskatchewan declared a state of emergency on Wednesday. One of the measures introduced by the province was to prohibit gatherings of 50 or more people.

Clark does not believe this went far enough and wants the province to ban public gatherings of any size for the foreseeable future, saying the next 24 to 48 hours are really important.

Click to play video 'Mayor Charlie Clark on the emergency town hall meeting' Mayor Charlie Clark on the emergency town hall meeting
Mayor Charlie Clark on the emergency town hall meeting – Mar 19, 2020

“We believe it’s time for citizens to stay home, self-isolate and just avoid any public gatherings,” he said.

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“We made a very strong message. We believe the province should go further than they have with their state of emergency. Now is the time.

READ MORE: Saskatchewan doctors adapt to new normal amid novel coronavirus pandemic

As of March 19, there are two confirmed and 14 presumptive cases of COVID-19 in the province. Both confirmed cases are in Saskatoon.

Clark said the spirit shown by the community is helping to ensure the best outcome in the city.

“I want to thank all the residents who have been engaged in helping volunteer and help with residents that are vulnerable and need help and sharing to get supplies to each other,” he said.

“This is essential for us to have the best outcome here. There’s no place I’d rather be in the world facing this outbreak in Saskatoon because of our community spirit.”

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

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.