Physicians are warning politicians and the public about the rise of COVID-19 variants of concern in Saskatchewan.
“They’re here and they’re skyrocketing,” said Dr. Jasmine Hasselback, Saskatchewan Health Authority medical health officer for Saskatoon.
As of Friday, 3,086 variants of concern (VOC) cases have been identified in Saskatchewan. At 2,189, the majority of VOC cases are in Regina, but 189 have been confirmed in Saskatoon.
“They’re taking over and they’re spreading quickly through Saskatoon,” Hasselback told Global News.
“Right now in Saskatoon, we’re in a privileged position to change that trajectory and get off this road or at least get away from the worst of it.”
VOC are more infectious and have more adverse outcomes than the original virus, she said. While most young people recover from the original virus with ease, she said some have ended up in intensive care due to a variant infection.
Scientists are trying to determine exactly why VOC are so dangerous. In the meantime, Hasselback said people must stay home
“We expect them to take over (the original virus). The goal has been to slow that down as much as possible,” she said.
B.1.1.7, the variant first found in the U.K, is the most dominant in the province, she said.
‘Our system will not cope’
A letter to the premier and health minister signed by 285 doctors highlights the elevated threat. It notes hospitals are becoming overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, with young, healthy people filling intensive care beds.
“Our system will not cope with these more aggressive, more contagious and more lethal variants,” the letter says.
“Without further action, both our healthcare system and the economy will be further devastated.”
The physicians are calling for the public health measures in Regina to be expanded across Saskatchewan. Indoor gatherings and indoor dining are banned in the Queen city, and many venues are closed.
A Saskatoon family physician who signed the letter restrictions outside of Regina are failing.
“If we all agree and we understand that further restrictions were needed in Regina, then I think we can all agree and understand that… some more restrictions need to be made across the rest of the province,” said Dr. David Woloschuk.
The doctors are also calling for paid sick time for essential workers, vaccination priority for all health-care workers, teachers and those at higher risk due to socio-economic or medical risk factors.
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said he read the letter, and will take it and new case numbers into consideration.
“If there are… additional measures that need to be looked at in other areas of Saskatchewan, we will take (chief medical health officer) Dr. Shahab’s advice with respect to that,” Moe told reporters on Friday.
Moe highlighted vaccination efforts as a win for the province.
Woloschuk said vaccines are a long-term solution that fails to address immediate threats.,
Hasselback said people should get vaccinated as soon as they’re eligible, but should continue to follow all public health guidelines.
“Go about your life as if you didn’t have it,” she said.
“They’re absolutely doing something. The degree in which they’re doing it, we’re learning.”