SASKATOON -- Less than a week after a public health order restricted all non-critical travel into and out of northern Saskatchewan, the province is introducing stricter measures with the ban now even applying to those with primary residences in the region.

While the province reported just one new case of COVID-19 in the far north on Thursday, 50 of the province's 88 active cases are concentrated there and two La Loche long-term care residents have died from the virus.

“Our government recognizes the unique challenges that northern communities are facing in fighting the spread of COVID-19,” Premier Scott Moe said in a news release Thursday.

“We are providing direct supports to northern communities and businesses to ensure the necessary resources are available, while imposing further restrictions to ensure the necessary steps are being taken to reduce the spread and flatten the curve in the north.”

All non-critical travel between northern communities, which was previously discouraged, is now restricted the public health order.

In addition, northern residents are ordered to remain in their local communities and to practice appropriate social distancing. Exceptions will be made only for critical items like collecting groceries and medical appointments.

Moe said the increased measures were encouraged by northern leaders.

"They don’t want this virus in their community,” Moe said in the release. “That’s why they support these further restrictions.”

Travel related to the delivery of essential services is permitted.

The affected area, the Northern Saskatchewan Administrative District (NSAD), covers almost half of the province.

The municipalities of La Ronge and Stony Rapids have been granted exemptions.

This means that travel to and from La Ronge and Stony Rapids from outside the NSAD is allowed, but individuals are not permitted to stop in any other community.