Rise Air implements mandatory vaccine policy amid delta variant spike in northern Saskatchewan

"With the growing COVID-19 cases and particularly the delta variant, the consideration of the COVID-19 vaccine is imperative,” Athabasca Health Authority CEO Allan Adam

Rise Air, the sole provider of scheduled flights in and out of the remote communities of northern Saskatchewan, announced the implementation of vaccination policies for its employees and passengers on Wednesday — as directed by the federal government. 

Scheduled flights, and other flight services provided to customers, will be impacted by this decision, the airline said.

“At Rise Air, we are committed to the health and safety of all our employees and customers,” Air Rise CEO Derek Nice said.

“Proper safety procedures are currently in place at all our terminals, including mandatory masking, temperature checks, physical distancing, and increased sanitation protocols. The recent spike in cases, particularly in the north, is concerning and we need to do our part to decrease the risk. Our vaccination policy will serve as a strong tool in our fight against this virus.”

On August 13 the government announced that all employees of federally regulated air, rail, and marine transportation sectors will need to be vaccinated. This requirement will be followed in all federally regulated industries and will be extended to commercial air travellers. Passengers will not be allowed to board an aircraft if unvaccinated, effective October 31. 

The policy will require all employees to be vaccinated by that same date. Failure to comply with the regulations could result in consequences up to and including unpaid leave or termination of employment. 

The airline said the new passenger requirements will “heavily impact” the isolated residents of the Athabasca region and other remote communities, and Rise Air will “work closely with health services to ensure a smooth transition.”

The vaccination requirements come as several northern communities have enacted their own policies that require residents to wear masks in public places and social distance until rising case rates are brought under control.  

There are 1,020 active cases in the relatively sparsely populated northern Saskatchewan zones as of September 1, accounting for about half the cases in the province. 

There are 13 new confirmed cases in the Far North West, four in the Far North Central, 69 in the Far North East, nine in the North West, 38 in the North Central and seven in the North East.

COVID-19 restrictions were reinstated at public locations in the community of Stanley Mission on August 27. At that time there were 65 cases of COVID-19 in the community of about 2000 people — including 26 cases of the Delta variant, mostly among unvaccinated residents.

“The Stanley Mission Emergency Control Group met today and decided to reinstate COVID restrictions and social distancing at public locations such as the band gas bar,” the LLRIB said in a written announcement.

“All community events are cancelled and private household gatherings – parties, card games, and house bingos, etc. – are strongly discouraged, as this is where the spread has been detected.”

Vaccination rates remain relatively low in the north and many communities have not achieved a 70 per cent vaccination rate. The Lac La Ronge Indian Band (LLRIB) is incentivizing vaccination with payments of $300 for all vaccinated members. 

The English River First Nation reinstated restrictions in Patuanak reserve amid a rise in cases there. The First Nation reported two residents in hospital and 34 cases in the community on August 31.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority declared an outbreak at the Northwest Health Facility in Meadow Lake on August 27. 

“With the growing COVID-19 cases and particularly the delta variant, the consideration of the COVID-19 vaccine is imperative,” Athabasca Health Authority (AHA) CEO Allan Adam said.

“We have the capacity for COVID-19 rapid testing, PCR and/or GeneXpert testing, and COVID-19 vaccines in all of the AHA facilities. We support Rise Air with their vaccination policies and encourage their employees and travellers to contact one of our facilities to make their appointments. We all have the responsibility to promote community health and safety.”

The airline said it will accommodate employees on a case-by-case basis who cannot be vaccinated for “valid medical or religious reasons.”

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