Meili blasts province for ‘taking a victory lap’ despite COVID numbers climbing in north

A nurse draws a dose from a vaccine vial in Prince Albert. Photo courtesy SHA.

NDP leader Ryan Meili blasted the provincial government for not doing enough to increase Saskatchewan’s vaccination rate during a stop in Saskatoon on Wednesday.

Meili told reporters he’s concerned by the increase in active COVID-19 cases—a number that’s risen eight of the past nine days—and demanded the provincial government do more to convince residents to get vaccinated.

“The fact is, we’re seeing the numbers rise with new COVID cases, outbreaks in the north, seeing more cases starting to show up across the province. (It’s) very concerning as we head through the summer,” Meili said during a media event with Saskatoon-Eastview MLA Matt Love. “This is the easiest time to prevent the spread of the virus. What’s going to happen in the fall if we don’t reach those numbers that we need to reach when it comes to vaccination?”

Meili said the province needs a new ‘last mile’ approach to ensure the vaccination rate increases before September. The NDP plan includes having the SHA call unvaccinated residents to answer any questions they may have about the vaccine, and also increasing dose access in inner cities and northern communities.

Meili also called for pop up vaccination sites at central locations or major events, like Rider games, and said if necessary, the province should offer incentives to get people to book appointments. He also called on the province to put barriers in the way that prevent unvaccinated residents from attending events with large public gatherings.

The provincial NDP leader accused Scott Moe and health minister Paul Merriman of “packing it in” and congratulating themselves on a job half-done, when several communities are still experiencing outbreaks.

“You have to be vaccinated if you’re going to events like this (Rider games),” Meili told reporters. “Scott Moe and Paul Merriman, they don’t get it. They’ve refused to even look at it. We need a better approach. We need a better last mile approach.”

Merriman told the media on Tuesday that getting vaccinated is a personal choice, and one the province should not interfere with. The health minister said recent outbreaks are localized, which means restrictions aren’t necessary.

He also argued that the government was working with leaders in areas with low vaccination uptake, like northern Saskatchewan, to improve those numbers.

Premier Scott Moe urged residents to get vaccinated during his last COVID-19 press conference with Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s Chief Medical Health Officer. At the time, Moe told reporters the province was shifting to a new phase in their fight against COVID-19.

“Instead of trying to control the COVID infection rates through government imposed restrictions and government rules, we can now control COVID through vaccines, and by everyone possible in this province doing their part (and) taking the time out to go out and get vaccinated,” Moe said.

On Wednesday, Meili said that stance wasn’t good enough.

“Let’s get back to looking at incentives, and all the ways we can promote the vaccine,” he said. “Whatever it takes, let’s do the work. Let’s wrap up a last mile strategy. Let’s stop doing a victory lap when the race is far from won.”