Saskatchewan is ready to reopen as the number of new coronavirus cases flattens in the province.
But Premier Scott Moe said it needs to be done with great caution as it involves risks.
“If we move too quickly, we risk increasing the spread of COVID-19,” Moe said.
“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.”
Moe made the remarks Wednesday evening during a televised address to the province, a first for a Saskatchewan Party premier, and the first televised address by a Saskatchewan premier in about 25 years.
“Because of the tremendous effort of Saskatchewan people and the success we have had in reducing the spread, I think we can begin to provide a bit of optimism.”
“Tomorrow (Thursday), we will unveil a plan to gradually and methodically re-open businesses and public services that have been closed because of the pandemic.”
Moe said the plan was made in consultation with Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical health officer.
“Dr. Shahab and I will outline which businesses and services will be included in each phase of the Re-Open Saskatchewan Plan, and some dates in May when the first couple of phases will begin.”
“It is a plan that will be carried out in five phases, and as we proceed with each phase, we will carefully monitor COVID-19 case numbers and adjust the plan as required.”
That includes more testing.
“Aggressive testing and contact tracing are key to controlling the spread of COVID-19,” Moe said.
“That will continue. In fact, we are looking at ways to increase testing and contact tracing in the days ahead.”
The number of coronavirus cases in Saskatchewan is about 70 per cent below the Canadian average, Moe said, with hospitalizations and death more than 90 per cent below the national average.
“The only reason we can begin to have this conversation tonight is because together, we have reduced the spread and flattened the curve,” Moe said.
“By any objective measure, what we are doing in Saskatchewan is working.”
Saskatchewan has reported 326 total coronavirus cases as of Wednesday, with 61 considered active.
There have been four COVID-19-related deaths in Saskatchewan.
Restrictions on travel, mass gatherings and senior care homes, however, will remain in place for the foreseeable future.
“We know that, in Saskatchewan and elsewhere, the largest and most dangerous outbreaks have been related to travel, to large gatherings, and to seniors care homes.”
“So all of those restrictions will remain in place.”
Moe’s comments are among the first signs that Canada is turning a corner in its battle with COVID-19 as provincial governments mull how to reopen their economies safely.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the decision to reopen economies lies with the provinces.
“We recognize that different provinces will make different decisions about how and where to start restarting and reopening their economies,” Trudeau said Wednesday morning during his daily briefing.
“We are going to work to co-ordinate so that we’re basing ourselves on shared values, principles and scientific approaches right across the country. But yes, provinces will take their decisions that we will try to co-ordinate in a cohesive story for all Canadians.”
But don’t expect the border between Saskatchewan and its neighbours to south — Montana and North Dakota to open anytime soon
Trudeau said the border is federal jurisdiction and it will remain closed until at least May 31.
“We will continue to coordinate with the United States, but the measures will apply right across the Canada/U.S. border regardless of provinces or jurisdictions,” Trudeau said.
Other provinces are mulling their options.
Ontario Premier Doug Ford has mused the province could start easing restrictions ahead of next month’s long weekend if the moderating trend holds.
Quebec Premier François Legault said he will present a plan next week on reopening shuttered schools and the economy in his province.
Legault said any plan would need approval from public health before being implemented.
– With files from Kalina Laframboise and The Canadian PressView link »