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Non-critical travel to northern Saskatchewan restricted due to coronavirus outbreak

Checkpoints have been set up on all highways leading into northern Saskatchewan after a public health order was issued restricting all non-critical travel.
Checkpoints have been set up on all highways leading into northern Saskatchewan after a public health order was issued restricting all non-critical travel. File / Global News

All non-critical travel into northern Saskatchewan is restricted due to a coronavirus outbreak.

The province’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, also issued a strong recommendation on Friday against non-essential travel between northern communities.

At the same time, the RCMP said a civilian employee at its La Loche department has tested positive for the new coronavirus.

READ MORE: ‘We could be in a lot of trouble’ — COVID-19 cases in La Loche area doubles to 12

Checkpoints have been set up on all highways leading into northern Saskatchewan, and officials said the public health order issued by Shahab provides legal authority to enforce travel restrictions.

Northern leaderships will provide staffing for the checkpoints, and the province has offered fire suppression staff to provide support.

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Click to play video 'Coronavirus outbreak: Saskatchewan premier announces additional restrictions for northern communities amid COVID-19 spread' Coronavirus outbreak: Saskatchewan premier announces additional restrictions for northern communities amid COVID-19 spread
Coronavirus outbreak: Saskatchewan premier announces additional restrictions for northern communities amid COVID-19 spread – Apr 24, 2020

Premier Scott Moe said the province is restricting travel due to the COVID-19 outbreak in La Loche and to protect northern residents.

“Most of (Friday’s) new cases are in the far north and appear to be related to an outbreak in La Loche,” Moe said.

“Twenty-five of the 57 active cases today are now in the far north.”

Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili said the outbreak is due to the failure of Moe to work more closely with northern leaders to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

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“We have repeatedly called on the province to do more to address the unique challenges that make northern communities particularly vulnerable to COVID-19,” Meili said.

“Their failure to act sooner has cost us valuable time. With COVID-19 now spreading in northern communities, it’s essential the province stops reacting and starts acting to get ahead of this virus.”

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Moe said the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) is meeting daily with La Loche’s mayor, the Clearwater Dene First Nation and the Metis nation.

“Our government has already taken significant action to respond to the situation in La Loche and we are taking further action today,” Moe said.

READ MORE: Community organization helping northern Saskatchewan communities tackle COVID-19

He said there are unique challenges when an outbreak occurs in northern Saskatchewan.

“Our government has already taken significant action to respond to the situation in La Loche and we are taking further action today,” Moe said.

“I have spoken with La Loche Mayor Robert St. Pierre and several other people in the community and we will continue to work closely with northern leaders to protect the north.”

READ MORE: Respiratory therapy grads join Saskatchewan front line during coronavirus pandemic

Moe said measures are being taken to address challenges some residents who need to self-isolate might face.

“Social housing units are already being provided for individuals who need to self-isolate,” Moe said.

“I have directed that the school in La Loche also be made available for this purpose and that the Public Safety Agency provide mobile housing units — work-camp trailers — for individuals who need to self-isolate.”

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The RCMP said its civilian employee is now in self-isolation for 14 days and will continue to follow the direction of the SHA.

Two additional civilian employees and four officers at the La Loche detachment have been ordered to self-isolate while waiting for testing.

RCMP said additional resources are being brought into the community while its seven employees self-isolate.

The detachment, police vehicles and other areas are being disinfected as required, the RCMP added in a statement.

“Over the past six weeks, the Saskatchewan RCMP has been preparing for exactly this type of situation and we have been putting in place measures to ensure our officers and employees continue responding to calls, 24 hours a day, seven days a week right across the province.”

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An outbreak was declared on April 17 after a resident at the La Loche Health Centre long-term care was confirmed to have COVID-19. Over the next few days, five more people in the village tested positive.

The outbreak then spread onto the Clearwater River Dene Nation.

Moe said a new portable GeneXpert testing unit is now in La Loche, which he said will significantly expand testing capacity and provide a shorter turnaround time.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority said additional personal protective equipment (PPE) has been provides to the La Loche Health Centre and the province is actively working with the federal government to obtain additional PPE.

Moe said the province anticipated outbreaks when they rolled out its Reopening Saskatchewan plan on Thursday.

“Even though Saskatchewan has successfully reduced the spread of COVID-19, unfortunately we can expect to experience isolated outbreaks such as this,” Moe said.

“Our health system and our government is prepared to take immediate action to respond to these outbreaks and that’s what we’re doing in collaboration with our communities in the north.”