PRINCE ALBERT -- Prince Albert’s Michael Hawkins says the province needs to do more to stop people from dying of COVID-19.

Hawkins, an Anglican bishop for the Diocese of Saskatchewan, recently had one of his priests die after testing positive for the disease, along with a close elder – but he’s also a survivor.

The 58-year-old first landed in the ICU with COVID-19 in November. In January, he was hospitalized again because of the lingering effects on his heart and brain from his initial illness.

“I couldn’t walk and I could barely speak and I was really confused,” he said.

“When I woke up in the ICU, in that room all by yourself, with machines on me, I realized I must be really sick. When the gentleman in the room in the bed beside me died one night, his family was outside the glass, I realized this is actually serious.”

Hawkins said Saskatchewan has still been seeing deaths nearly every day throughout the vaccine rollout.

“We keep getting told in a language that’s almost boasting – I’m glad I’ll get vaccinated in five days – about how many vaccines we have, but people are dying still unnecessarily from COVID.”

As of Monday, 455 people who tested positive for COVID-19 have died since the beginning of the pandemic.

Hawkins said he’s unsure whether another province-wide lockdown is what’s best to control the spread, saying medical experts know best.

However, the province should not be hesitant about damaging the economy, he said.

“I’m concerned for people’s mental health as well as fiscal and financial health, whether that’s right, but I think the idea that we can’t think about (a lockdown) gives me the impression that we’re prepared to risk human lives for the sake of other priorities,” he said.

In the provincial government’s COVID-19 news conference last Wednesday, Health Minister Paul Merriman said the government isn’t considering further restrictions.

“Our restrictions are working right now, with the exception of Regina,” he said.

The tightest restrictions are in effect in Regina and area, where entertainment facilities such as libraries and bowling allies are closed, and restaurants are limited to take-out and drive-thru only. Private gatherings with people outside of your household are not allowed, with the exception of people living alone and for childcare.

“The current restrictions throughout Saskatchewan were what brought the curve down in December,” said Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab.

“The only thing that’s changed is you can, with caution, make household bubbles of up to three households and worship places sizes have gone up,” he added, referring to those outside of the Regina area.

Merriman said the province is also trying to balance people’s physical and mental wellness.

“We want to make sure that we’re always balancing the safety with people’s freedoms, but also protecting their livelihood and their mental health. That’s a huge piece of that, is the mental health side of things, for people to be able to interact,” said Merriman.

Hawkins said the government’s unclear messaging has been damaging to the province, especially when it comes to wearing masks. He said he doesn’t “think by the guidelines” and wears a mask whenever he’s around others, regardless of whether or not the public health order says to.

“The messaging has to be that this is serious and that everyone has to take all the precautions,” he said.

“There’s no sense of urgency about that response.”