Saskatoon’s mayor is calling for vaccine passports and other measures to limit what unvaccinated people can do.
However, the province said it doesn’t have plans to bring back restrictions, or mandate vaccine passports.
Saskatoon is a hotspot for COVID-19, Mayor Charlie Clark said, pointing to the latest wastewater data showing the highest amount of viral load since research began. The Delta variant is the dominant strain in the province, and Clark said this means the pandemic is far from over.
Clark said now is the time to bring in vaccine passports and other measures for public gatherings.
“There’s people that are unvaccinated wanting to participate, that there needs to be some kind of conditions or measures put in place to make sure these events can be done safely,” he said.
Several venues and organizations in Saskatchewan have set their own requirements, but Clark said he wants the provincial government to set universal guidelines. Currently, he said only 68 per cent of the population is vaccinated, and until that number is higher, he said the province should step in.
“It is difficult when everybody has to do it on their own and it becomes a patchwork so the more coordinated we can be the better,” he said.
However, Saskatchewan shows no signs of bringing in vaccine passports unlike other jurisdictions like B.C. or Manitoba.
“There’s some onus on the individual to go out and get vaccinated, that’s the best tool that we have,” said Health Minister Paul Merriman.
“Somebody can be fully-vaccinated within 28 days of not being vaccinated at all, that’s what’s going to bring down our vaccination numbers.”
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He said it is not the government’s place to infringe on the public’s freedoms.
“Public health measures are a stop-gap,” he explained when asked about vaccine passports and mandating masks, calling them tools.
“We have used them in the past when we didn’t have the vaccines.”
He said Saskatchewan needs to focus on getting people vaccinated.
Opposition leader Ryan Meili said the province should be taking the lead instead of leaving rules to mayors and event organizers.
“People are working in schools, people who are working in healthcare facilities, people who are attending big events like Roughriders games and concerts, this is where you have people vaccinated,” he said.
He said he would like to see the provincial government reaching out to unvaccinated people to give them information and possibly encourage them to choose to get vaccinated.
“Just saying ‘Go get your shot, it’s the thing you should do’, (Merriman is) not wrong, but he’s nowhere near good enough,” Meili said.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders are one of two CFL teams without any restrictions on those attending games.
Without restrictions on those games, and other gatherings, one health policy consultant warns Saskatchewan could attract unvaccinated people as visitors.
“We might become an attraction point for unvaccinated people to come and watch CFL games and that really strikes me as being high risk,” said Dr. Dennis Kendel.
Provincial health officials said the focus remains on boosting vaccination rates. Merriman said all signs point to Saskatchewan currently entering the fourth wave of the pandemic.