Saskatchewan says COVID-19 reopening plan dependent on vaccine uptake

REGINA — Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says there is a “finish line in sight” for COVID-19 as the province announced its three-stage reopening plan slated to unfold over the next few months. 

Moe described the reopening plan as "very cautious and measured," and said the three-step approach will help people understand exactly what needs to happen to get back to normal in Saskatchewan. 

“It does provide a very clear path on how we can achieve that finish line together in communities across the province,” Moe said Tuesday. “Follow the public health orders, go get vaccinated.”

The government said the first step will happen three weeks after 70 per cent of residents aged 40 and over have received their first dose of vaccine and when all Saskatchewan adults are eligible to get vaccinated. 

In that phase, the government said it would reintroduce some of the rules that were in place last summer, including indoor gatherings of up to 10 people and allowing up to six patrons per table in a restaurant. 

Step 2 is to take place three weeks after 70 per cent of those aged 30 and older have received a first dose. In that step, the limits on indoor gatherings will increase, and venues like casinos and event facilities can reopen with physical distancing. 

Step 3 will take place three weeks after 70 per cent of all adults have had a shot. 

By Step 3, which Moe said could happen in early or mid-July, the government expects to lift most of the remaining COVID-19 public health restrictions. 

Moe said the province's reopening plan is modelled on other countries, such as Israel and the United Kingdom, which have seen success in their own reopening efforts. 

“This has worked in other jurisdictions and we firmly believe that it will work here in Saskatchewan," he said. 

Officials say the plan relies on the province receiving the supply of vaccines it is expecting on time. 

The plan will also rely on Saskatchewan residents getting vaccinated as soon as they can and continuing to follow public health restrictions in place in their area.

At a news conference Tuesday, Moe strongly encouraged any Saskatchewan residents who have been hesitant about getting vaccinated to "get off that fence."

“Every day across Canada in this province and around the world, vaccinations are saving people’s lives,” he said. “If you’re on the fence, this should really be one of the easiest decisions you’ll ever make in your life. 

“On one side of that fence, people are living. On the other side, people are dying.”  

According to Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, the province expects to see more vaccine doses become available over time. 

“As long as supplies hold, we are entering a very accelerated phase for vaccinations,” he said. 

Because of this, Shahab expects Saskatchewan residents will be able to get their second vaccine dose within a much shorter time frame than they were able to get their first. 

Shahab also said achieving a high vaccination rate in the spring and summer will be important for minimizing the impact of the pandemic in the fall, when new COVID-19 variants may gain traction around the world. 

"As a province that is well-resourced, we have had the luxury to be able to physically distance, to isolate greatly and now to get vaccinated,” he said. “The rest of the world, unfortunately, does not have that privilege and will not have that privilege for many, many months.” 

With high vaccine uptake, Shahab says Saskatchewan residents can expect "a good summer and a good fall."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 4, 2021

— By Julia Peterson in Saskatoon. 

The Canadian Press