Private indoor gatherings in Regina and area are banned immediately as the Saskatchewan government looks at slowing the pace of COVID-19 cases in the community.
The province said Tuesday that households can no longer be expanded and all indoor gatherings are restricted to immediate household members only.
Exceptions are being made for people who live alone and single parents of minor children. Health officials said they can meet with one, consistent household of less than five people. They added that current co-parenting arrangements can continue.
“Today, we are at a very challenging moment in this pandemic,” said Premier Scott Moe at a briefing.
“The rise of the variant cases means that we have to continue to be extremely cautious, in particular here in Regina, but I would say extremely cautious in communities across the province.”
Regina is currently the hot spot in the province for COVID-19 numbers, with 755 of the 1,472 active cases on Tuesday.
The city also has the highest number of variant cases in Saskatchewan — 763 out of 891 cases detected by screening.
The province also issued a travel advisory for Regina and said travel in the region is not recommended unless absolutely necessary.
The government is also urging anyone able to work from home to do so.
Restaurants and bars have also been ordered closed to in-person dining as of 12:01 a.m. Sunday, March 28, but takeout and delivery service is permitted.
Banquet and community halls, conference facilities, arts venues, museums, libraries, live theatre, cinemas, arcades, bowling and science centres, or any non-essential indoor locations that had limits of 30 individuals also have to close as of Sunday.
“These are really brutal conversations. These are really brutal decisions to have to make, but given the numbers, it’s what needs to happen and it needed to happen now.”
Moe said the government is extending its small business emergency payment to those businesses impacted by Tuesday’s announcement.
The province said the measures will remain in place until at least April 5, however Moe said it is very likely those will have to be extended.
NDP Leader Ryan Meili said the lack of action by Moe’s government has led to the current situation.
“We are in the absurd position where bars and restaurants are open while schools close because school divisions have been forced to act as the government sits on its hands,” Meili said in a statement Tuesday.
Last Friday, both Regina school divisions said all classes are moving to online learning in the two weeks leading up to the Easter break, with in-class learning scheduled to start again on April 12.
“Families are looking for leadership that has not come from this government. The worst threat to business is Scott Moe’s complete failure of leadership in getting this pandemic under control,” Meili said.
“He saw the modelling, he knew this was happening, and he chose to relax restrictions instead of protecting Saskatchewan people. His gamble on the vaccine being the only answer is a gamble with people’s lives and livelihoods.”
Moe urged people to exercise caution until more people are vaccinated.
“Our vaccination rollout is going extremely well, it’s leading the nation,” Moe said.
“Nearly 150,000 shots have now been administered in the province… and we’re only limited in this province by the supply of the vaccines that we are receiving.”
Meili’s call echoes one made Monday by a Regina infectious disease physician.
Alexander Wong says without a lockdown, he doesn’t think Regina will be able to regain control of the situation soon.
“I think it is impossible for us to believe that we are going to be able to get out of this without aggressive mandated measures,” Wong told Global News.
“Just relying on vaccine alone and the public messaging to date, I don’t think, it’s not going to be good enough.”
Vicki Mowat, the NDP’s health critic, said the short-term circuit-break is the only way to “get case numbers down and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed while vaccines are deployed.”
“We must also keep a close eye on conditions in the rest of our province. Regina is not an island and it is very possible the variants will begin to spread more quickly and soon.”
Before Tuesday’s announcement, epidemiologist Dr. Nazeem Muhajarine said the province has a history of implementing small measures over a longer period of time and waiting to take significant steps at the last possible minute.
“Introducing public health measures today to control the variants is better than not doing it,” Muhajarine said.
“It’s better than actually taking another week, another two days to go to these measures. It is better late than never.”
In response to COVID-19 infection rates and the latest public health orders, the University of Regina (U of R) announced on Tuesday it will temporarily pause face-to-face classes.
Starting on March 29, U of R said its in-person classes will move to remote platforms until April 12.
“Only a limited number of students have been participating in low-density, face-to-face course components on campus this semester,” read a U of R statement.
“As part of the protocols currently in place, building access is monitored and entrance restrictions and existing operating hours remain in effect. Our campus remains a safe place given the protocols and protective measures we have in place.”