Saskatchewan’s premier is rejecting calls from the Opposition and health-care workers who say an immediate circuit-breaker lockdown is needed in order to save the health system and lives.
“If we wait two to three more weeks we’re North Dakota. We’re Manitoba. We’re hundreds of people dead. We’re businesses that are closed forever,” Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said.
The NDP leader says a three-week circuit-breaker is necessary to break the chain of COVID-19 transmission while allowing contact tracers to catch up on their workload.
Meili proposed moving non-essential businesses to curbside service and delivery; reducing capacity at non-essential businesses to 25 per cent; and closing bingo halls, casinos, sports, fitness and recreation facilities.
“This is the action that must be taken now if we want to avoid more pain, more hardship, more sickness in the weeks and months ahead,” Meili said.
“On the path we’re on, we’re headed to a full indefinite lockdown like we’re seeing in Manitoba.”
Last Friday, hundreds of health-care workers criticized the government for introducing measures that didn’t go far enough. Minister of Health Paul Merriman and the province’s chief medical health officer said the public will have to give them a “good, solid try” before new measures are considered.
But 39 hours after the new measures took into effect, Premier Scott Moe introduced further measures, implementing a province-wide mask mandate and reducing gathering sizes for indoor public places, but stopping short of a lockdown.
“There are consequences to a lockdown or a circuit breaker,” Moe said.
“We lost 70,000 jobs in this province when we locked down the first time. Thankfully, through a robust recovery, we’ve been able to re-capture 55,000 of those jobs here in the province, leaving us about 15,000 jobs short where we were before COVID.”
He said if the province was to lockdown again, tens of thousands of jobs would be lost.
When asked if he’s choosing jobs over lives, the premier said he’s not sacrificing one for the other.
“We feel we’re in a stage where a slowdown will work. We may need to get to a lockdown in the days ahead. Manitoba got there when they had 500 cases a day,” Moe said. “We feel we have some time.”
Should a lockdown eventually come into effect, the NDP wants the government to provide more support for schools and to offer grants and financial aid to businesses.
But with ICUs in Saskatoon exceeding capacity by 128 per cent, the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN) and the Opposition feel now is the time for a circuit-breaker lockdown.
“They’re seeing themselves full to the max,” SUN president Tracy Zambory said.
“There is no breaks. It’s just heavy, extreme pressure of very, very sick people, and the beds being full to turning (people) away.”
The union is calling for a two-week circuit breaker, while Meili is calling the government’s COVID-19 response “half-measures” that come “too little, too late.”
“Every day this government fails to act, the virus succeeds,” Meili said.
— With a file from Mandy Vocke.