Premier reiterates no new public health orders are in the future

Herald File Photo.

Moe uses own experiences to tout rapid tests and booster shots

Premier Scott Moe reiterated that no new restrictions would be coming to the province as he provided a COVID-19 update from Regina on Monday morning.

This was the Premier’s first in person press conference since testing positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 13. He used his own experience to frame the press conference’s message about restrictions.

“We are now in a very different phase and place in this pandemic for a few reasons,” Moe said. “First, lockdowns and vaccinations do not seem to be stopping the transmission of the omicron variant. At the same time, we are seeing omicron with a much quicker cycle of infection and it seems to be less severe than previous strains particularly if you are vaccinated and have your booster shot.

“COVID is not going away,” he added. “It’s going to remain an ongoing concern for all of us, but we live with other diseases in the communities of our province that are also ongoing concerns. We do this without locking down, without taking away people’s freedoms and without disrupting everyone’s life. We need to make every effort to get to that point with COVID-19.”

Moe said other countries are discussing lifting of restrictions and public health measures. He added that they were also talking about home residents need to live with COVID moving forward. He said Saskatchewan residents need to start preparing for that point.

“We are not quite at that point yet here in Saskatchewan today but we could be in the near future,” he said.

Moe said that hospitalizations are rising but are lower than other provinces with stricter public health measures. He also emphasized that Saskatchewan’s COVID fatality rate remains one of the lowest in Canada—a point he made in previous press conferences before the province’s dashboard update on Friday.

There are 262 COVID-19 patients in hospital, including 29 in the ICU. Of the 233 patients not in the ICU, 92 have a COVID-19-related illness, while 102 are incidental COVID infections and 39 have not yet been determined.

“If we look at the larger holistic numbers, Saskatchewan’s current rate of hospitalizations and ICU admissions is below the national rate and is well below a number of provinces that have imposed much more stringent public health measures and much more stringent lockdowns than we have here in Saskatchewan,” Moe said.

Moe pointed to Quebec as an example of a province where strict public health measures aren’t working. Moe argued Quebec has double the rate of hospitalizations, despite those restrictions.

“Saskatchewan continues to have the lowest rate of COVID related fatalities of any province throughout the month of January,” Moe said. “Again if we look to Quebec the area of Canada that has the most stringent lockdown policies in place, they have over 1,000 COVID fatalities in January. That’s about seven times more than we have in Saskatchewan on a per capita basis seven times more.

“Omicron is spreading across Canada and it’s spreading around the world regardless of the public health measures that are in place, which is why we have chosen to avoid increasing those public health measures and increasing the policies surrounding lockdowns here in Saskatchewan,” he added. “We are not going to impose additional restrictions that cause significant harm for no significant benefit.”

Moe argued that the province has managed the Omicron wave with “very little in the way of restrictions on people’s lives.” He said the province’s efforts were avoiding the economic and psychological harm lockdowns can cause by infringing on personal freedoms.

Moe added that his own experience shows vaccines will protect people from becoming seriously ill, which eliminates the need for lockdowns.

“I really had little if any symptoms at all and felt quite good throughout my COVID infection,” he said. “I expect it might have been a lot worse had I not been fully vaccinated and I had not had my booster shot a couple of weeks prior.”

Moe also used his own experience to promote the benefits of rapid testing.

“I only found out that I had COVID when I did a rapid test, and I had just gotten my booster a few weeks before,” he explained. “As I said, I had hardly any symptoms—if any symptoms—and I also would say I understand that is not going to be the case for everyone. This is why we need to be vigilant and diligent in our efforts.”

Instead of lockdowns, Moe said his government would continue to promote the vaccines as an effective, preventative measure.

Health Minister Paul Merriman also appeared in the press conference. He said Saskatchewan hospitals have an absentee rate of around 17 per cent. That’s a four per cent increase since 2019.

He added that the province has recently reached out to other levels of government for information on who could help in case those absentee numbers get worse.

“Those people have volunteered for these positions on our go teams,” Merriman said. “We have reached out to the public services as well as lots of retired people, non-traditional immunizers, we have reached out to all of these individuals to be able to prepare for what could be coming.”

Merriman said they’ll also be trying to speed up the approval process to get more international healthcare workers certified.

NDP says premier not taking COVID-19 situation seriously enough

In a statement later in the day, opposition NDP leader Ryan Meili said that the Premier was downplaying the current situation in the province.

“He chose to turn his back on overburdened health care workers and the patients they serve,” Meili said in a media release. “He chose to malign legitimate public health experts and encourage anti-science extremists.”

Meili said that none of Moe’s responses were new, or helpful.

“The fact is, no matter how long we wait, no matter how many chances we give him, Scott Moe is unable or unwilling to make the right choices. He will always put the worst of his political ambitions ahead of the health of Saskatchewan people,” Meili said.

“The Premier has given up in the fight against COVID-19.”

Instead, Meili called on the SHA and Dr. Saqib Shahab to “tell Saskatchewan people the truth about what we’re facing” and what they’ve recommended to the government. He also called on Sask. Party MLAs to speak up on behalf of their constituents, not their party.

“These elected leaders need to show up on behalf of the people they were elected to serve, not simply to support this premier as he puts his politics ahead of Saskatchewan people’s lives,” Meili said.