The Saskatchewan government’s decision to end mandated self-isolation will have a direct impact on the public’s willingness to stay home if infected with COVID-19, according to a professor at the University of Saskatchewan (USask).
All public health orders ended Monday, including legislation requiring anyone with COVID-19 to self-isolate for at least five days after testing positive.
“(The government has) minimized accountability to the point that there’s really likely going to be no real effort put into self-isolation,” said Pamela Downe, a USask professor and medical anthropologist.
The move away from requiring isolation results in a weak chain of communication from the provincial government to smaller communities, she said.
Downe said “some degree” of accountability is needed to make sure people act in the best interest of the population.
“It could be from local communities, workplaces (or) educational institutions,” she said.
Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab and provincial health officials continue to recommend five-day self-isolation.
In an interview with Global News Tuesday, Health Minister Paul Merriman said people could choose to self-isolate for a shorter period.
“If you do contract COVID-19 … obviously, you should be looking at staying home for three to four days,” Merriman said. “But we’re not mandating that through the government.”
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Since announcing the end of all COVID-19 restrictions, the Saskatchewan government has maintained that people have the tools to keep themselves and others safe, including masks, vaccines and rapid testing.
Merriman reiterated the government’s position that it is time to shift the onus onto people, rather than mandating actions through public health orders.
“I think at this point, the government needs to start stepping out of people’s lives and making responsibility on the individual for them to be able to make that assessment on what they need to do,” Merriman said.
The health minister said the government’s actions have resulted from Shahab’s advice and not political pressure, according to Merriman, who said “there’s no race to be first in this.”
In 2021, Saskatchewan RCMP received 825 calls about people not self-isolating in violation of the public health orders.
Health policy consultant Dr. Dennis Kendel said ending restrictions is “unfortunate,” and the public has no option but to hope others make smart choices.
“The pandemic is not gone. It’s just that the government has succumbed to the demand for freedom,” Kendel said.
Going forward, Kendel said he wants to see the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) improve its communication around issues like self-isolation. He raised the example of a lesser-known recommendation on the SHA’s website.
It states people should take preventive measures for up to 10 days after testing positive.
“Continue to reduce exposures to others by distancing, wearing a mask, practicing respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene and limiting contacts especially with people at high risk for severe disease (older, immune compromised, etc.) and settings with people at high risk such as visiting long term care,” the SHA website reads.
Now citizens need to commit to the welfare of their community, Kendel said.
“We really are in this together and if we want to minimize our risk, then we have to minimize the risk to other people.”