REGINA — A microbiologist says Premier Scott Moe’s government needs to get tougher when it decides next week what its move will be over the holidays in Saskatchewan’s fight against COVID-19.
The province has the second-highest rate of active infections per capita in Canada — behind Alberta and slightly ahead of Manitoba — with a weekly average of 282 new daily cases.
More than 7,000 new infections have been recorded in the past month, and the number of people hospitalized and who have died has doubled.
“It doesn’t matter if we’ve flattened the curve. Right now we need to drop the curve, because we are just building up this backlog of cases and people and patients that can’t be properly served,” said microbiologist and University of Saskatchewan professor Kyle Anderson.
“If we could have a good hard stop, where everyone did the maximum amount of social distancing that they could for a couple of weeks, we would break as many of the chains of transmission as possible and our numbers would get better.”
Moe has suggested more restrictions might be added to existing public-health measures, which are the most relaxed on the Prairies and are set to expire on Thursday.
No more than five people can be in a household at one time, unless they live there. Churches, casinos, theatres and bingo halls remain open, but are capped at 30 people. Team sports aren’t allowed and no more than four people can sit together in bars and restaurants.
Alberta and Manitoba have banned socializing indoors. Alberta has also extended that to outside, while Manitoba is still allowing five people to gather outdoors if they follow physical distancing. Restaurants and bars can only offer takeout or delivery.
The Saskatchewan Party government has rejected anything resembling an economic shutdown. Moe has tried to keep as much open as possible while tackling the spread on a targeted basis.
Anderson said he believes more focus needs to be put on people who are ignoring public-health orders.
“We need to start enforcing those rules.”
He said one of the challenges is the spread of misinformation about the virus and a lack of education.
“We’ve had leadership who says, ‘Oh, we would like you to do this but it’s OK if you don’t.’ That’s not sending the right message. We need to use authority and expertise to convince people that if they just do the right things (over) the next few months, we’ll get to vaccination.”
Moe and the province’s chief medical health officer have said they agree the time for education is over and that police officers should use their discretion when issuing fines.
Police in Saskatoon and Regina each said they have issued four tickets since the first case of COVID-19 was detected in March. RCMP said they have laid 49 charges.
Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, warned Friday that the country is on track to hit 10,000 daily cases within weeks and that all large provinces need to strengthen their response to COVID-19 “now.”
Anderson said Saskatchewan fared well during the summer because businesses and activities closed quickly in the spring and were allowed to reopen slowly.
“By the time we got to the fall, we’ve sort of had this assumption that if we just keep doing the same things, we will have the same level of safety,” he said.
“But as the numbers crept up, those same activities became less safe because there were more people out there already infected.”
Anderson said the province failed to learn lessons that played out in other jurisdictions. For example, it was slow to make masks mandatory provincewide.
He said the pandemic is getting larger and stronger, and “putting in new rules when you’re going 100 kilometres an hour as opposed to 20 is not going to stop things as quickly.”
“Across the world, across the country, people put in tighter regulations and … we should have done this sooner.”