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Saskatchewan’s chief medical officer becomes a celebrity, source of comfort during COVID-19 pandemic

Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer has become a source of comfort for many in the province, and now a household name.
Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer has become a source of comfort for many in the province, and now a household name. Michael Bell / The Canadian Press

They call themselves the Shahab Squad and on Wednesdays they wear knits.

From copying his fashion choices (sweater vests and cardigans) to using memes to relay his sound medical advice, fans have turned Dr. Saqib Shahab into a celebrity.

Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer has become a source of comfort for many in the province, and now a household name.

“He has become the face of our health-care system,” said Premier Scott Moe during an April 17 press conference.

READ MORE: ‘Dear Dr. Bonnie’ — Women pen song on B.C.’s top doctor amid coronavirus pandemic

With many working from home, thousands tune in to the province’s daily coronavirus briefings. And at the helm of it all is Shahab.

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“One day when it is safe to do so again, I look forward to shaking this man’s hand,” Moe tweeted on March 28. Attached was a picture of Shahab grinning.

Most recently, a Shahab Fan Club has popped up on Twitter.

It’s where the Shahab Squad gathers to discuss his best fashion moments and where fans can show their appreciation.

“Thank you Dr. Shahab for your calm consistent approach,” tweeted a member of the Shahab Squab.

One fan even called for a statue of Shahab to be erected in front of the Roy Romanow Provincial Laboratory where coronavirus tests are done.

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“It’s so cute seeing all the love and support for Dr. Shahab on Twitter,” tweeted Aqsa Hussain. “He’s a family friend and he’s just as sweet as he seems.”

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When asked about the fan club on Monday, Shahab was humbled.

“That’s very nice,” said Shahab.

“It’s always good to get recognition, and always good to receive criticism as well. I think it’s a balance and I welcome both – the positive and the constructive criticism.”

Shahab now joins the ranks of other provincial health officers across Canada who have become celebrities in their own right.

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In British Columbia, songs have been written about Dr. Bonnie Henry, who often trends on Twitter following her daily COVID-19 briefings. A shoe was even designed in honour of the top doc. It sold out and orders crashed the company’s website.

When Alberta’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, wore a dress with a periodic table pattern, the garment’s Victoria manufacturer received a slew of orders for it. Others called for Hinshaw to be the parade marshall at the next Calgary Stampede.

And in Quebec, when the province’s public health director, Dr. Horacio Arruda, said on TV he would be baking Portuguese tarts, thousands signed an online petition to have him share his recipe. Arruda’s face doesn’t just show up on TV — it’s found on T-shirts and loaves of bread.

READ MORE: A new star is born — Canada’s chief medical officers offer clarity in age of coronavirus

Scientists are starting to push aside athletes and other entertainers for the public’s attention as citizens try to navigate through unprecedented times.

When people are confronted with a vague sense of impending doom, people want to reduce uncertainty, said behavioural scientist Samuel Veissiere, a McGill University professor of psychiatry.

“They want meaning, and they are looking to people they perceive as experts to give them answers in terms of what’s going to happen,” Veissiere said. “People want stats, numbers. They want answers.”

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– With files from the Canadian Press