Provincial cabinet minister Jeremy Harrison said he knows business owners are eager to reopen after having been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the Minister of Trade, Export Development, Immigration and Career Training added they won’t hesitate to crack down on business owners who reopen before they’re allowed to.
Harrison made the comments during a question and answer webinar with Saskatchewan Chamber of Commerce members Thursday afternoon. The government had released details about its five-phase reopening plan hours earlier, and one business owner wanted to know what the penalty was for disregarding the plan and reopening before May 19. Harrison said it won’t be tolerated.
“It’s not just that they’re the rules. It’s a public health order, so it will carry the force of law,” Harrison said.
“I understand that there’s probably a great deal of anticipation in some areas about moving forward, but we selected these dates for a good reason and we would ask that they be followed.”
Retail and personal care services are allowed to reopen on May 19. Reopen dates for other industries, like restaurants, bars and entertainment facilities have yet to be determined.
Harrison doesn’t expect impatient business owners to be a problem. He said the business community has been helpful and cooperative during the pandemic, and he doesn’t see why that shouldn’t continue.
“We really have relied on the public to use their good judgement in adhering to the public health orders, and they really have,” he said. “I mean, 99.9 per cent of the public have been just wonderful. They’re have been cases where that hasn’t been the case and we have had to use enforcement mechanisms. Our police services try and do that in a responsible way.”
When asked if the government will suspend or reverse its re-open Saskatchewan plan should a second wave of COVID-19 outbreaks hit, Harrison said they would defer to the Chief Medical Health Officer before making a decision. He declined to speculate on whether that would mean closing down businesses in virus hotspots, while leaving other unaffected.
“It would depend on individual circumstances as to what that advise would be,” he said.
Most of the webinar questions focused on funding programs, as business owners sought more information about a variety provincial aid packages and federal partnerships. Harrison said they’re trying to be cautious and methodical as they ease pandemic restrictions, and will defer to the province’s medical experts before making any further decisions.
At least one business owner was puzzled by the government’s plan to reopen businesses in retail and personal care services on May 19 without setting a firm date to reopen child care facilities. The questioner wanted to know how employees were supposed to go back to work without someone looking after their children.
Harrison reiterated that they’re simply acting on the best advice given by healthcare professionals and the Chief Medical Health Officer.