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Saskatchewan increases gathering size at churches, releases graduation ceremony guidelines

Click to play video 'Coronavirus outbreak: Saskatchewan relaxes restrictions on activities including religious services, graduations' Coronavirus outbreak: Saskatchewan relaxes restrictions on activities including religious services, graduations
Saskatchewan Minister of Education Gordon Wyant announced on Thursday the government would begin relaxing COVID-19 restrictions on certain activities, including religious services and graduation ceremonies. Wyant said the province would announce a date for Phase 4.1 of the reopening plan early next week.

Saskatchewan is relaxing gathering rules around places of worship and releasing guidelines for graduation ceremonies, weddings and funerals.

Places of worship can now increase attendance to 30 per cent of the building capacity or have up to 150 people together, whichever is less. All other guidelines – like social distancing rules – remain.

The government made the change on Thursday following consultation with numerous faith-based leaders across the province.

“It’s important people of faith can celebrate and worship the way they want,” said Deputy Premier Gord Wyant.

READ MORE: Student questions why restaurants and bars reopening, but venues for grad ceremonies not

The previous guideline had restricted gatherings in congregations to 30 people, which took effect Monday. Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer said it was changed days later because the events are routine.

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“If you have the same people meeting weekly, and go to the same place….it’s safer than random mixing,” Dr. Saqib Shahab said.

Although up to 150 people can attended a place of worship, people will placed within groups of 30. These groups will be separated from each other by a minimum of five metres – or 16.5 feet.

The same rules apply to outdoor graduation ceremonies which are now allowed in Saskatchewan.

“For worship and graduation events, our recommendations do promote social distancing between cohorts of 30,” said Shahab. “This will allow events to happen that are as safe as can be given our low transmission rate.”

Click to play video 'Coronavirus outbreak: Saskatchewan premier encourages graduates, schools to find innovative, creative ways to celebrate' Coronavirus outbreak: Saskatchewan premier encourages graduates, schools to find innovative, creative ways to celebrate
Coronavirus outbreak: Saskatchewan premier encourages graduates, schools to find innovative, creative ways to celebrate

Unlike places of worship, graduation ceremonies can only occur outdoors or virtually. There will be a maximum of 30 graduates placed per class, and an overall attendance of 150 people. This includes guests.

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Schools with larger classes may need to hold multiple ceremonies, says Wyant, who welcomed the new guidelines on Thursday.

“We know how important it is for graduates in Grade 12 to celebrate, so I was pleased, to see Dr. Shahab give more consideration to this regardless of the fact we’ve seen more and more requests for this,” Wyant said.

Drive-in services for graduations are also an option.

The government said public health officials will monitor the outcomes of gatherings at places of worship and graduation ceremonies the next several weeks to determine future reopening activities.

Weddings and funerals

With guidelines relaxing concerning places of worship, the province is allowing people to gather for weddings and funerals.

No more than 150 people are allowed to gather, and physical distancing measures still apply.

“It can’t include 150 people mingling amongst themselves, and food at a buffet, and a dance,” Shahab said. “Unfortunately we’re not confident seeing that happen at this point.”

With the new guidelines, Shahab asks for the province’s patience.

READ MORE: Places of worship in Saskatchewan prepare for Phase 3 of province’s reopen plan

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“No one wants to hold a celebration where transmission happens and people fall ill. We’ve seen that happen in other parts of the world,” Shahab said. “We have to have patience to move forward in a systemic way.”

Government close to opening pools, allowing sports

Government officials also said Thursday that a target date for the first part of Phase 4 of the province’s reopening plan from the coronavirus pandemic will be released next week.

That will cover child and day camps, outdoor pools and splash pads, as well as outdoor sports and activities.

The second part of Phase 4, which includes indoor pools, indoor rinks, libraries, museums, galleries, movie theatres, casinos and bingo halls, will be announced at a later date.