The provincial government confirmed nine new cases of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan on Thursday, bringing the province’s total to 95 since the outbreak began.
The government did not release any details about the ages of the patients or where they were tested.
Of those 95 cases, five people are in hospital and three have since recovered. Three of those five hospitalized patients are in Regina. The other two are in Saskatoon.
Five of the reported cases are the result of local transmission, including one new case in Northern Saskatchewan.
Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical health officer, did not speak to the media on Thursday.
All but four confirmed cases of COVID-19 involve patients ages 19 and older. There are 45 COVID-19 patients between the ages of 20 and 44, 32 patients between the ages of 45 and 64, and 14 cases in patients age 65 and older. All cases are confirmed.
To date, 6,915 COVID-19 tests have been performed by the Roy Romanow Provincial Laboratory.
For more information on the province’s COVID-19 cases, visit www.saskatchewan.ca/COVID19 and click on ‘Cases and Risk of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan.’
Province suspends evictions, late fine payment punishments
The provincial government announced two new measures on Thursday to help residents who might be struggling to make ends meet.
The first change related to provincial fine collection and late payment fees. Effective last Thursday, enforcement measures on fines have been suspended for the next six months. That includes late payment fees, files sent to SGI related to driver’s licenses suspensions, files sent to the CFA for set off and files sent to Collection Agencies. Fines still need to be and can be paid online, by phone or by mail, but late payments won’t be punished.
Provincial court officers will still receive bail and restitution payments. Residents are asked to phone the local provincial court office to arrange for those payments beforehand.
Justice Minister Don Morgan spoke about the message during a conference call with reporters Thursday afternoon. He said the grace period is in place for two reasons.
“One, there’s the financial impact of the person who owes the fine, but we’ve also closed a lot of the court payments or payment places that would be there. It may be a challenge for people to be able to get in … and make the payments,” he said.
“But we want to make sure that we don’t have somebody who’s making choices between food or fines right now. “
The second change announced Thursday was that eviction hearings will be temporarily suspended as a result of the COVID-19 emergency.
The Office of Residential Tenancies will not be accepting applications for eviction related to missed or late rent or other non-urgent claims. Previous eviction orders will not be enforced and previously-scheduled hearings have been cancelled.
That measure came into effect yesterday.
Eviction hearings will only be conducted for urgent situations where there is a risk to health or safety from violence or damage to property. Hearing can also take place if a tenant has been locked out by their landlord or where a landlord has been accused of not providing essential services such as power and water.
Tenants will be expected to still pay their rent, and those who can’t will be expected to pay in full once the state of emergency is over.
The main concern, the province said, was that evicted tenants will be unable to self-isolate or physically distance themselves from others, increasing their risk of transmitting or contracting COVID-19.
“We felt it was necessary to provide a clear message to Saksathcewan residents that are currently enting that they will not be evicted if they face economic hardship during the pandemic,” Morgan said.
‘We want to platen the curve. We need to be able to give people the ability to stay home and to self-isolate.”
The measure was not put in place by regulation, rather by a direction to the office. It will be considered a month at a time and extended as long as it’s necessary. While there are no current supports for landlords or tenants art this time, Morgan said the government will adjust as needed.
“There are measures coming by way of help from both the federal and the provincial government with changes to EI and various business grants,” he said, emphasizing that rent is still expected to be paid.
“Rent will continue to accrue, and we’ll likely have a plan in place where we’ll work with the rentalsman, renters and landlords to try and work something out if they’re unable to pay.”
That could look like a partial payment or a payment plan, he said.
‘Depending on how many months it goes, rent arrears will probably have to be spread over several months to give people an opportunity to catch up.”
Morgan said the move was made with minimal consultation, thought he province did examine what other jurisdictions are doing and talk to some landlords.
Organizations such as the Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations (FSIN) and Prince Albert Grand Council (PAGC) have called for a halt on evictions.
The NDP issued a press release Wednesday calling for a moratorium on evictions, saying no one should lose their home because of COVID-19 “full stop.”
The NDP also asked for a plan to assist low-income, vulnerable people and those experiencing homelessness.
“We know other provinces have already taken steps to protect people from evictions,” said NDP Social Services critic and Prince Albert MLA Nicole Rancourt in a statement. “At this time, we need to do everything in our power to ensure people do not become homeless as a result of COVID-19, and provide additional funding to ensure we can provide safe services to those who are struggling.”
The province had previously declined to pause evictions during the pandemic. Morgan said Thursday that decision changed as the number of people laid off and seeking EI continued to grow.
“Everything as we go along changes day by day,” he said.
“As we look at the increase in the pandemic and the number of layoffs that happened … we’ve noticed it’s been a sharp increase in the number of people that have lost their employment. We’re hoping that’s short term, but we have to work with everybody that’s here and well work with landlords as well as tenants as we go forward.”
As for more supports, Morgan was noncommittal when asked what he’d like to see from the government. Some organizations and the federal Conservatives have asked for more aggressive measures to support businesses. While the federal government has committed to a 10 per cent wage subsidy for qualifying small businesses, many say that doesn’t go high enough and cite countries that have promised subsidies as high as 75 or 80 per cent.
“I had a meeting with the federal labour minister this morning … some of my federal and interprovincial counterparts in labour earlier in the day. We’re going to continue to have those meetings and determine what supports are there,” he said.
“What we really want to see form the federal government is having the money flow as quickly as possible. I know they have to go through different processes to get the cheques out, but if somebody has lost their employment or is in desperate need of money, we’re hoping that they’re able to get the cheques and credits to flow to people as quickly as they can.”
Province not planning early release for non-violent offenders
Morgan said during the press conference that the province isn’t currently planning to release non-violent or remanded offenders to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the province’s prisons.
The request to release some offenders has been made by the union representing legal aid lawyers, as well as other groups in the province.
“We don’t have a plan to do an early release,” he said.
“We know the ministry of Corrections and Policing is working to try to find a variety of different options. They have the ability to relocate prisoners from one facility to the other, and the ability to develop protocols within the institution. We’re not at capacity in the institutions right now.”
–with files from Jason Kerr.