Is this the wrong time to loosen COVID-19 rules in Sask.?
SASKATOON -- On Tuesday, Premier Scott Moe and Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab announced the province would be loosening private gathering restrictions, allowing households to create a "bubble" of up to 10 people.
Moe called it a "cautious relaxation."
The move is being met with frustration from the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses, with president Tracy Zambory saying the loosening of restrictions sends confusing messages.
"It's wrongheaded, and it really is a recipe for disaster," she said.
"When we're hearing from our medical community and our medical experts ‘now is not the time to be loosening,'" Zambory said.
"We know that the Saskatchewan Health Authority met with the physicians last Thursday, and made it very clear that we haven't got ourselves in front of COVID, we're still in a very precarious situation, and now is not the time to loosen, yet we have a government who did just that."
Saskatoon epidemiologist Nazeem Muhajarine says he was dumbfounded to hear the announcement.
"I'm frustrated as both a professional, as an epidemiologist, but also as a person, as a citizen," he said. "It's Moe’s way, unfortunately. It is Scott Moe's way, and that is how things seem to be unfolding, and a prime example was yesterday."
"I don't think the premier is listening to science, I don't think the premier is listening to public health recommendations based on best practices of public health response to this pandemic from other provinces, other countries."
On Wednesday Moe said it’s a divisive issue in Canada and in many parts of the world.
"There is concerns that we may be moving to ambitiously, there's others that may be concerned that we aren't moving quickly enough," he said.
“Our numbers are down, even in Regina where we do have some variants present to a higher degree, lesser degree than other areas of the nation, but a higher degree compared to other areas of Saskatchewan, our numbers continue to decrease," Moe said.
"Our hospitalizations have continued to decrease over the course of the last while, and we do today have more access to vaccines than we did yesterday, and in the next three weeks we are going to receive more vaccines than we have in the last three months.”
Muhajarine says the concept of what the province is asking of people is confusing in itself.
'‘Up to three families but make sure it is kept to that number, but if you're over 50, if you have family members going to school or working outside, and if you don't have to maintain a bubble of any size outside of your household, then don't do it,’ is what I heard [from Tuesday's press conference] as well, so that is confusing," he said.
Zambory and Muhajarine both point to Saskatchewan’s numbers when it comes to the rate of new cases in the last seven days (83, according to the Government of Canada being the highest in Canada, according to the federal government's numbers.
"When we really went to town with COVID, it was from household transmission, and what have we loosened? Household transmission," said Zambory.
We're allowing more people to come into our house, yet health experts are telling us that's exactly what we shouldn't be doing. We should not be letting more people into our house, because that's how we got ourselves to the highest death rate to the highest infection rate across this country."
Both are also concerned about the emergence of the COVID-19 variant in southern Saskatchewan.
"This variant is highly transmissible, and it leads to greater, quicker mortality," said Zambory. "It really makes us fearful that the public is going to lose trust, they're going to just throw their hands up in the air, and not follow any of the public health orders, when in fact we need to be following them even harder."
Muhajarine says if the variant behaves the same way that it has in other parts of the world, it will trigger a massive outbreak that could lead to more deaths.
"That's just what the variants do," he said. "We know that those are also more fatal, not only more transmissible, more fatal. And this could touch off the third wave. I'm not saying that it will necessarily, but it could be."
Zambory is imploring people to continue to follow public health rules as they were before Tuesday.
"The ones prior where you mask, you keep your bubble small, you don't go out unless necessary, one person only to the grocery store and of course do that all-important constant hand washing," she said.
"None of those things should change."