Saskatchewan pivoting from COVID-19 restrictions to learning to live with the virus

Saskatchewan pivoting from COVID-19 restrictions to learning to live with the virus
Photo credit: June Andrei George/Unsplash

REGINA – Premier Scott Moe and his Saskatchewan Party government are staying away from additional measures to try to contain the spread of the COVID-19 Omicron variant, despite acute care hospitalizations nearing record levels.

Moe says society needs to learn to live with COVID-19 as it does with other diseases.

“COVID is not going away. It’s going to remain an ongoing concern for all of us, but we live with other diseases in our communities and province that are also ongoing concerns,” Moe said Monday. “We do this without locking down, without taking away people’s freedoms and without disrupting everyone’s life.”

Dr. Joseph Dahine, an intensive care specialist at Cite-de-la-Sante in Laval, Que., said COVID-19 may be unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be harmless or that people should lower their guard.

“We’re tired and sometimes we try to take shortcuts intellectually because our brains are fatigued. We’re tired of living in a society we’re not used to,” Dahine said.

“Those are weaknesses which this variant or the next one will take advantage of … and cause more damage. We need to be wary of our collective fatigue, and not make rush decisions that can impact the health-care of our population, of our citizens.”

Saskatchewan has a mask mandate and requires proof of vaccination or negative tests in many settings, but Moe says he won’t introduce more measures because he doesn’t believe they have a significant benefit.

NDP Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said Moe’s comments are irresponsible. He suggested it’s premature to treat the Omicron wave as endemic.

“To pretend we’re there in a way that causes people to fill up our hospitals and die is absolutely criminal,” Meili said.

Government modelling suggests 500 people could be hospitalized with COVID-19 in the coming weeks. That’s 25 per cent more than what the province experienced last fall during the Delta wave. At that time, elective and urgent surgeries were cancelled and the military was brought in to help in hospitals. Some intensive care patients were sent to Ontario.

As in the Delta wave, the government is asking government employees to help in its health-care facilities, but no workers had been deployed as of Monday, the premier said.

Health Minister Paul Merriman said the province is planning to move some patients to rural facilities to make room for COVID-19 patients in Regina and Saskatoon hospitals which are at capacity.

About 85 per cent of Saskatchewan’s hospital beds are in use with about 1,800 COVID-19 and other patients admitted, said Moe.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority said there are 2,163 beds in the system, but not all of them are available due to staffing challenges brought on by Omicron. During the Delta wave, 2,200 beds were taken.

Last week, the province’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab,said Saskatchewan would experience more hospitalizations than it has seen before. He has repeatedly asked the public to stop gathering outside of work and school.

COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased about 200 per cent in the past month. There were 262 people in hospital Monday, including 29 receiving intensive care.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 24, 2022.

The Canadian PressThe Canadian Press

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