The province’s proof-of-vaccination public health order is set to expire Monday at 12:01 a.m. The order mandating mask usage, as well as mandatory isolation after testing positive, is set to expire Feb. 28 and the province says it has no intentions to extend.
Two months before the proof of vaccination public health order was written, Colin Hall was one of the first in Saskatchewan to implement a proof of vaccination policy at his business, a Regina-based yoga studio.
Now, seven months later, he says he’s comfortable with ending his vaccination policy but adds he’ll still be requiring mask usage in classes for the indefinite future.
“We will be ending our proof of vaccination policy Feb. 14. The risk of people becoming very seriously ill was really quite high, and I don’t feel like that’s the case now with this Omicron wave,” Hall said.
“But for the time being, I think masks are going to maintain people’s sense of confidence and security going out and doing group things again. I feel like masks are really a nice middle ground for people.”
Meanwhile, Jim Southam, who owns Prairie Cannabis and is a member of the Saskatchewan Independent Cannabis Retailers Network, says he believes the restrictions hurt business and is hoping a rebound follows their removal.
“In talking with our members, numbers ranged anywhere from a 15 to over 30 per cent reduction in sales since proof of vaccination came into play,” Southam said.
“Hopefully our customers will start coming back into the stores and we can get back to some kind of normal.”
Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce CEO Jason Aebig added that while his organization “respects and supports” the government’s decision to end restrictions, a “phased-out approach” to ending proof of vaccination would have been preferred “to allow affected businesses to unwind their policies and communicate the change to their employees and customers.”
Global News also asked several Saskatoon residents for their reactions to Tuesday’s announcement.
Ron Schmidt said, “I’m still going to wear a mask when I go into buildings. That’s just my opinion, but if people don’t want to wear a mask I’m not going to make it an issue. In the past I would make it an issue. I think it’s about time where people have their own opinion on things and you’ve got to respect that.”
June Quinn was a little more guarded.
“My thought are that it’s a little bit early,” she told a Global News crew Tuesday.
“Anybody I’m in contact with will be wearing a mask. I just think it’s a little bit too early.”
The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) said in a statement that the announcement marks “a huge step towards recovery and a new phase for Saskatchewan small businesses.”
“As we press forward it is important that we don’t slide back,” said CFIB President Dan Kelly.
Kelly said CFIB data shows that just 36 per cent of Saskatchewan small businesses have recovered to normal levels of sales, that 15 per cent are actively considering bankruptcy and that the “average prairie small business” has taken on $100,000 in new debt over the past two years.
“We call on the Saskatchewan government to back up today’s announcement with a plan to boost consumer confidence over the weeks ahead,” Kelly added.
“After two years of uncertainty, messaging needs to shift towards encouraging the safe return to activities like dining, seeing a movie, going to the gym, events and travel so that our small businesses can begin the long road to recovery.”
Meanwhile, the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) issued a joint statement Tuesday afternoon with the Yorkton Tribal Council (YTC), Prince Albert Grand Council, Battlefords Agency Tribal Chiefs, and the Meadow Lake Tribal Council calling on the province to reconsider the coming changes.
“Our First Nations communities have been working around the clock to ensure the health and safety of our communities and schools. Reducing and eliminating COVID health protocols will only put our most vulnerable at risk all over again. We are not prepared to put the lives of our families at risk” said FSIN Chief Bobby Cameron.
“Our fight against COVID-19 is not over, therefore, we will continue to follow all our safety measures and COVID protocols until this is over. It is not safe to ease any restrictions. Our First Nations communities are still currently at a greater risk than the rest of the province and we must keep them safe.”
YTC Tribal Chief Isabel O’Soup added “it is premature for the province to end all restrictions as our First Nations vaccination rates are much lower than the provincial rates and an end to all restrictions will create added pressure to the community frontline workers and community resources.”
“It’s inevitable that there will be a surge in positive COVID-19 cases in our communities and it is unfortunate that the province is straying from the course to mitigate the impact of the highly contagious COVID variants. Our First Nations communities and organizations will continue to be diligent and implement our strategies for risk management and mitigation of this virus,” she continued.
Colin Hall of Bodhi Tree Yoga added that while it is promising to see less serve reactions result from the Omicron wave — he actually decided to move his yoga classes online-only for the month of January out of precaution — for him it’s still too early to believe Saskatchewan is truly out of the pandemic woods.
“In terms of long term planning, I’m not. I’m doing everything based on what I have in front of me right now,” he said, adding that while he supports the idea of personal responsibility he thinks the province’s decision to limit PCR testing and end daily reporting makes that a difficult task.
“I guess we’ll just watch wastewater data and we’re in a situation where it looks like the viral load in the city has significantly come down and has been down for a while I think it will be safe at that point to make it masks-optional for people.”