Government prepares to ‘gradually and methodically’ lift restrictions on Saskatchewan businesses

Premier Scott Moe says the government will consider “gradually and methodically” allowing more Saskatchewan businesses to reopen if the number of active COVID-19 cases in the province continues to drop.

The government reported three new cases on Wednesday, one of which is in the north, and 18 recoveries. There are now only 95 active cases in the entire province. That’s the lowest number since March 26.

Moe said that’s a reason for “cautious optimism.” Next week, he plans to bring forward a list of businesses that can start preparing to reopen, as long as conditions continue to improve.

“We are not talking about kicking the economy wide-open. We are not talking about going back to doing business as we did before this pandemic hit,” Moe said during a media update on Wednesday. “What we are talking about is expanding the list of allowable businesses … (while) ensuring that they have all of the supports that they need, and ensuring that they are following the proper and appropriate physical distancing measures.”

Moe added that easing restrictions too soon could undo all the positive work that’s been accomplished during the past month. When asked if the government as being too hasty about reopening the economy, Moe said some people are saying it’s too soon and some people are saying it’s not soon enough. He wants to find a balance.

“We are trying to inch along … in allowing some additional businesses to open,” he explained. “But the expectation in those businesses, with respect to physical distancing and taking precautions to protect employees and customers, will be the very same as the businesses that are currently open today.”

While some businesses may reopen, several major COVID-19 prevention measures will remain in place. The government will not ease restrictions on international travel, meaning anyone who returns to Saskatchewan will still have to self-isolate for 14 days. There are also no plans to lift the cap on public gatherings. Instead, Moe extended the province’s State of Emergency for another two weeks.

“We will come forward with a much more detailed and fulsome plan in the days ahead, but it will be contingent on the people of this province doing exactly what they have been doing over the course of the last number of weeks,” he said.

While the total number of active COVID-19 cases continues to fall, Saskatchewan continues to see a rise in cases from unknown contacts. While the majority of previous cases were linked to international travel or large public gatherings, there are now 30 cases that haven’t been traced.

When asked if the province would expand its testing criteria, Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, said they don’t want to over-test or test for the sake of testing. However, he also said they would re-evaluate their current testing model.

“Even though we have a strong testing capacity, we need to use it in a very rational way to inform us about cases who need to isolate, and their contacts who develop even mild symptoms,” Shahab said.

Saskatchewan has conducted 20,907 COVID-19 tests so far, the second-highest per capita number among all Canadian provinces. However, the number of people getting tested per day has declined significantly over the past week.

On April 8, there were 1,051 tests conducted in Saskatchewan, but by April 13 that number had fallen to 478. There was a boost in testing the next day, with 625 tests reported for April 14.

Shahab said it’s likely those numbers will continue to drop as cold and flu season draws to a close and international travel grinds to a halt.

“It doesn’t always have to be high or low. It should be appropriate testing,” he told reporters. “What we saw four to six weeks ago was a lot of travel into the country, and so there’s a large volume of testing generated by people who were coming in and then of course, as we enhanced our testing guidelines and flu season was still happening, there were obviously a lot of people with coughs and colds who were getting tested, even if they had not travelled.”

Shahab added that Saskatchewan residents should continue to be cautious, even as the province begins preparations to resume normal life. He echoed Moe’s concerns, saying that opening too quickly could result in a spike in cases, and said anyone with COVID-like symptoms should still get tested, even if they think it’s just the cold or the flu.

“We don’t want the public to get complacent,” he said.

There have been 304 COVID-19 cases reported in Saskatchewan since March 12, 205 of which have already recovered. There are eight people in hospital due to the virus, although none of them are in intensive care. Four people have died due to COVID-19.

For more information on public health orders, self-assessment tools and testing information, visit www.saskatchewan.ca/COVID19.

With files from Peter Lozinski.

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