Coronavirus: Saskatchewan businesses prepare as province rolls out plan to reopen

Click to play video: 'Medical services, recreation to resume in Saskatchewan'
Medical services, recreation to resume in Saskatchewan
WATCH: Medical services, recreation to resume in Saskatchewan – Apr 23, 2020

With the transition to restoring normalcy in Saskatchewan set to begin early next month, some businesses around the province are preparing to reopen.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe announced a five-phase plan to reopen the economy, following numerous restrictions placed on the province due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The first phase begins May 4, allowing medical services such as dentistry, optometry, physical therapy, opticians, podiatry, occupational therapy and chiropractic treatment to open their doors to the public.

Saskatchewan College of Opticians president Deanne Oleksyn said she agrees with the province’s decision allowing these businesses to operate.

“I think it’s a great move. We are definitely an essential service to some point. Vision is very important to all members of society,” Oleksyn said.

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“I have had several people who have reached [out] about broken glasses that need them fixed, or need a new pair. I definitely think it’s something that needs to get back to business. The quicker the better.”
Click to play video: 'Residents react to businesses re-opening in Saskatchewan'
Residents react to businesses re-opening in Saskatchewan

She said it will be interesting to see how businesses operate with people adjusting to the pandemic.

“It’s going to be a different world for all of us, a different normal. It might be something that, due to the limitations of people in a practice, we’ll have to make appointments for,” Oleksyn said.

“It’s hard in our practice to social distance and pretty hard to adjust a pair of glasses behind someone’s ear if you can’t physically touch the patient. It will be a work in progress.”

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As for timing, the Saskatchewan Association of Optometrists is putting its full trust into the government.

“If Saskatchewan Health feels the situation is safe, we are willing to support the decision,” said Nathan Knezacek, SAO president.

“There are new guidelines established by the government to ensure that patients, staff and optometrists are safe. Extreme caution is being used when opening up offices with the used of PPE and extra disinfection techniques.”

Oleksyn said she expects most optician offices to take advantage of the new regulations and be back in business by May 4.

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Sherry Just, Saskatchewan Society of Occupational Therapist’s executive director, said she is hearing mixed messages from occupational therapists. Some are “itching” to get back, while others are little bit more “cautious.”

“There have been OT’s in the health authority in different areas that have been able to continue practicing on the front line with COVID-19… working from home, working remotely through tele-practice. Some, not at all,” Just said.

“The occupational therapists going back to resume their practice… they’ll start to take steps to protect themselves plus their clients as well. They are not going to go too many locations in one day and make sure they are utilizing the proper personal protective equipment.”

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Regina & District Chamber of Commerce CEO John Hopkins said he is appreciative of the province’s approach to reopening Saskatchewan as long as businesses follow guidelines to prevent further spread of the virus including social distancing.

“We appreciate that Saskatchewan’s economy needs to be open methodically with the utmost attention to ensuring people are safe, but at the same time ensuring that some businesses can reopen and people can work,” Hopkins said.

“We encourage all businesses set to reopen and those who will visit those businesses to continue to be vigilant. Together we will get through this crisis and together we stand.”

It’s a message mirrored by the North Saskatoon Business Association.

“We are happy that our government is taking a forward-looking approach to reopening our economy and society,” said NSBA executive director Keith Moen.

“We believe that the gradual approach favoured by the government is most appropriate. We are also encouraged that these decisions, while helping the business community reclaim some aspect of normalcy, will be made based on medical advice and what is best for our communities.”

Despite a sense of optimism, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said its plan to reopen is being done with a cautious approach.

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“We already know that in settings where there’s close proximity of people in gatherings, where there is shouting, singing, laughing, crying, hugging or other kinds of close contact, we already know transmission happens very quickly,” Shahab said.

“We need to understand how we can safely allow some businesses, some recreational activities where the risk is already low by virtue of how they happen and learn from that and then move forward in a very systematic way.”

The first phase also allows for low-risk outdoor recreational activities with precautionary measures in place.

It includes fishing and boat launches, golfing as of May 15 and operation of parks and campgrounds on June 1.

The size of public and private gatherings will remain limited to a maximum of 10 people.

“We’re happy with the announcement today from the Government of Saskatchewan …this is a great step forward and very positive news,” said Brian Lee, Golf Saskatchewan’s executive director.

“Golfers typically own their equipment; you play your own golf ball. You can play with others or by yourself. It can be done in a safe manner under the COVID-19 pandemic times.”

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The second phase of Saskatchewan’s reopen plan begins on May 19 and includes the reopening of clothing and shoe stores, flower shops and gift, book and stationery stores.

Hairdressers and barbers, registered massage therapists, acupuncturists and acupressurists can also start providing services at that time.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the transition back to normalcy won’t be easy, and is working with provinces to ensure the correct the choices are being made, supporting Saskatchewan’s decision.

“Different provinces are in very different postures related to COVID-19 and will be taking decisions that are appropriate to them,” Trudeau said.

“What we’re doing at the federal level is attempting to pull together and coordinate with all different provinces so we are working from similar set of guidelines and principles to ensure Canadians right across the country are being kept safe as we look to those next steps.”

Click to play video: 'Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau says provinces will make separate decisions on when to re-open the economy'
Coronavirus outbreak: Trudeau says provinces will make separate decisions on when to re-open the economy

Phases three-to-five will include the reopening of restaurants, gyms and other recreational facilities along with eventually lifting public and private gathering restrictions. No timeline has been given for the final three phases.

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The province said its plan is subject to change if another outbreak occurs.

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

Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

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. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

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

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– With files from Dave Giles

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