Premier Scott Moe during a tour of the COVID-19 mass immunization clinic and drive-thru immunization space at International Trade Centre in Regina on Thursday, Feb. 18, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Bell

Saskatchewan closes restaurants, issues travel advisory in Regina and area

Saskatchewan closes restaurants, issues travel advisory in Regina and area

Regina is back under some of the strictest public-health measures seen in the province since last spring over concerns about a rising spread of more infectious COVID-19 variants.

Premier Scott Moe announced Tuesday that a ban on household guests, which was lifted provincewide two weeks ago, is immediately back in place in Regina and surrounding communities.

Starting Sunday, restaurants and bars in the city will not be allowed to serve customers and will have to switch to takeout or delivery.

Event venues like community halls, movie theatres, museums, libraries and “any non-essential indoor locations” also won’t be able to operate as of Sunday.

“The challenge we have is the concentration of variants in Regina is much, much higher,” Premier Scott Moe said at a news conference.

“It will be higher eventually in other areas of the province and we want to delay that as long as possible so that we can get the vaccines out to everyone.”

Highway signs will soon display an advisory for residents to avoid travelling in and out of Regina if it’s not for work or medical appointments.

The province is also advising anyone who can work from home to do so.

In and around the capital is where 763 of Saskatchewan’s 891 identified variant cases have been located. The area also had 91 of the 150 new COVID-19 infections reported Tuesday.

Saskatchewan’s overall average of new daily cases was at 158, up from 138 a week ago.

Most of the confirmed cases in the province have been of the mutation first detected in the United Kingdom, known as B.1.1.7, which officials believe has taken hold as the dominant strain in the Regina area.

Two school divisions in Regina announced last week that students will soon be moving to online learning because of the presence of variants.

The new measures come after Moe and his health minister spent weeks rejecting calls from doctors to tighten up rules after variants were detected in the province.

Saskatchewan has one of highest rates of active cases per capita in Canada.

While infections have dropped elsewhere in the province, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer noted they’re increasing in the Regina region.

Dr. Saqib Shahab urged people to stay home in hopes they can reverse the rise in cases over two to four weeks.

The tougher rules will be in place until at least April 5. But Moe said it’s “very likely” they could be extended.

“They’re here to be in place for as short of (a) period as possible until we can start to just nudge the numbers down and, ultimately, start to forecast that the hospitalizations would start to drop here in Regina.”

Earlier Tuesday, the Opposition NDP called on the Saskatchewan Party government to introduce a “circuit-breaker” in Regina to bring down cases and prevent the city’s two hospitals from being overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority said that as of Monday, intensive care units at the Regina General Hospital and Pasqua Hospital were more than 70 per cent full.

At the General Hospital, 15 of its 28 ICU beds were in use by COVID-19 patients. Health officials said there were 152 people in hospitals across the province on Tuesday, up from 138 a week earlier.

Shahab presented modelling that shows, without interventions, there could be 120 people in the province’s intensive care units.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 23, 2021.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version said there were 151 new daily cases.

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