'The time for patience is now over': Sask. premier announces masking order, vaccination rules
Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe has announced an indoor masking mandate will come into effect on Friday followed by a proof-of-vaccination policy.
In a video posted to Facebook Thursday morning, Moe said the fourth wave is "being driven almost entirely" by unvaccinated people.
"The choice to not get vaccinated is creating consequences for others and I would say very soon, it is going to create consequences for those who have made the decision to remain unvaccinated," Moe said.
Moe said a proof-of-vaccination policy will be implemented beginning Oct. 1 with the "interim" indoor masking measure likely lifted later in the month
"The government of Saskatchewan has been very patient, possibly we have been too patient and that time for patience is now over," Moe said during a news conference in Saskatoon Thursday afternoon.
"To not get vaccinated is creating consequences … for others and now it, unfortunately, is going to create consequences for you."
In a press release sent ahead of the media availability, the Saskatchewan government said that proof of vaccination or a negative test will be required at establishments including restaurants, casinos, movie theatres and indoor facilities hosting ticketed sporting events.
The same requirements will be put in place for all provincial and Crown employees.
Moe said the negative tests that can be used in lieu of proof of vaccination will not by paid for with public money.
"You will be providing (the test) on your own, through one of the private operators that operate here in the province and you'll be paying for it as well," Moe said.
Under the plan, proof of vaccination will not be required at retailers, grocery stores, places of worship and fast food restaurants offering takeout and delivery.
Non-ticketed amateur sporting events, business meetings and places of business closed to the public will also be exempt.
The rule will not apply to indoor private gatherings. The masking order will require non-medical masks to be worn in all indoor public spaces.
Youth athletics will be exempted from the masking rules, with those under the age of 18 not required to wear masks while engaged in athletic activity.
Speaking at the news conference, Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said higher vaccination uptake would help protect children under 12 who don't have the option.
"It is astounding to see that 98 per cent of children who test positive are in households who are unvaccinated, about 330 cases so far," Shahab said.
Shahab also took aim at those refusing the jab because they are "mired in conspiracy theories."
"It is surprising to meet young people who work frontline in restaurants and retail who are fully vaccinated and they say their parents or grandparents are not because they've seen something on social media," Shahab said.
"I think anyone who is deep into misinformation needs to course-correct themselves."
Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone said even with the new measures in place, the health authority is bracing for an expected surge in people needing treatment due to the number of COVID-19 cases already present in the community.
"We will be tested as an organization like we have never been tested before over the upcoming weeks," Livingstone said.
The Saskatchewan government also said it is "working to immediately expand widespread access" to home rapid-antigen COVID-19 screening tests.
Residents will be able to obtain the tests from locations operated by the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) and other agencies.
The province emphasizes the home tests are intended to be a self-screening tool, with SHA testing still needed to confirm cases with certainty.
Moe said that tests required
MOE'S PREVIOUS STANCE
Moe last held a news conference less than a week ago where he announced a reinstated self-isolation order for COVID-19 positive residents and the reduction of some health care services to ease the stress on the system.
During the Sept. 10 news conference, Moe said he firmly believes being vaccinated is a choice and that he was resistant to the idea of creating "two classes of citizens" based on vaccination saying would be a "very difficult and very divisive path" for the government.
Moe has resisted calls to reinstitute public health measures such an indoor masking mandate, describing such steps as "stopgap measure."
“They were always intended to be temporary, and they were to get us to a point where vaccines are largely available and accessible and they are today,” Moe said during the Sept. 10 news conference.
After a promising initial uptake, COVID-19 vaccination rates have lagged in Saskatchewan, which, along with Alberta, ranks lowest among provinces according to federal data.
Responding to a reporter's question, Moe shrugged off the notion that the timing of his government's announcement was related to Alberta premier Jason Kenney's rollout of public health measures Wednesday evening.
Moe instead framed the new measures as a continuation of last Friday's announcement.
In his response to the announced measures, Saskatchewan NDP Leader Ryan Meili pounced on the proximity of Moe's announcement to Kenney's, calling the measures "long overdo."
"Copying Jason Kenney’s 'too-little, too-late' plan is not leadership," Meili said in a press release.
The opposition leader said Moe "ignored the increasingly desperate voices" of those who have been calling for a change in the province's approach to managing the pandemic.
--Edited by Miriam Valdes-Carletti with files from Janelle Blakley.