Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says his province will continue with its reopening strategy despite new Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) guidance suggesting more people should be vaccinated before COVID-19 restrictions loosen.
PHAC said Friday that 75 per cent of the eligible population should have a first dose and 20 per cent should have a second dose before public health measures ease up.
Vaccines have been deemed safe and effective for adults and children over the age of 12 in this country. Three of the four approved brands, and all of the ones being used in Saskatchewan so far, all require two doses.
“First of all, I think it has no bearing on what happens in Saskatchewan,” Moe told reporters after the Canada-wide advice was issued. “Second of all, I do actually think we’ll meet those metrics.”
PHAC’s recommendation, which says summer is a timeline target for its benchmark, comes on the heels of U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance that fully vaccinated people in that country can stop wearing masks in most cases, including indoors.
Touting Saskatchewan as having “one of the best vaccination efforts in Canada,” Moe said the three-step reopening plan the province released earlier this month still stands.
The first step is set to begin on May 30, three weeks after 70 per cent of the population over the age of 40 has one dose.
It includes relaxing public health measures in the hard-hit provincial capital to bring it in line with other communities, with consideration for physical distancing. Bars and restaurants can reopen with six people per table, but buffets and dance floors have to stay closed. VLTS can reopen. Places of worship can operate at 30 per cent capacity or 150 people, whichever is less. Group fitness classes can resume. Private indoor and outdoor gatherings will be capped at 10 people. Public indoor gatherings will be capped at 30 people, with a 150-person limit at outdoor gatherings.
The premier said he expects to set a date for starting on the second step, which requires three weeks to pass after 70 per cent of people over the age of 30 receive a first dose and the implementation of the first step, “very soon.”
Under the second step, retail and personal care services will have capacity restrictions lifted as will restaurants and bars, when it comes to people per table. Physical distancing and barriers must be maintained, though. Event facilities, casinos, bingo halls, theatres, libraries and recreational facilities will be allowed to reopen with a cap of 150 people. The limit on the number of people allowed at private indoor gatherings will rise to 15 and remaining restrictions on youth and adult sports will be lifted.
The third step requires 70 per cent of the population over the age of 18 to be vaccinated. It’s expected to begin three weeks after Step two and will result in even more restrictions relaxing.
“We’re going to offer our second doses here in very short order,” Moe said Friday. “By the time we get to a phase three reopening here in the province, we most certainly, I believe will have far in excess of 70 — we’ll be at 70 per cent plus the three-week benchmark.”
Critics from within the province previously called Saskatchewan’s plan short-sighted and simplistic.
Provincial Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said Friday said he thinks Saskatchewan needs to stay focused on both the vaccination rate and community transmission as it charts a path forward.
“I want to make sure the choices that are being made here are wise choices based on what we’re dealing with,” Meili said.