REGINA — Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe on Tuesday defended his government's public health restrictions which he extended by two weeks in the face of spiking COVID-19 infections and a rising death toll.
The measures put in place for the holidays to try to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus set capacity limits for businesses and banned household guests, although up to 10 people can gather outdoors.
Casinos and bingo halls are closed, but restaurants, retailers and personal care services remain open, although at reduced capacity.
The measures were to expire on Friday but will stay in place until at least Jan. 29.
Saskatchewan has one of the highest rates of active COVID-19 cases per 100,000 in Canada. Another 248 infections and five more deaths for a total of more than 200 were reported Tuesday.
Moe attributed the infection spike to holiday gatherings and said he wants to wait another two weeks before deciding on any more measures.
He acknowledged that some provinces have stricter rules but said he believes Saskatchewan's current health orders, including a provincewide mask mandate, have caused the caseload to level off.
"There’s nothing telling me that in this post-holiday season that that same plan shouldn't work," Moe said during a briefing.
The consequences to people's mental health and to young people who are limited in their activities has to be considered, he said.
Dr. Saqib Shahab, chief medical health officer, said 49 people have died since the start of January, and added that the most recent infections are likely to result in more hospitalizations and ICU admissions in the next few weeks.
There were 29 COVID-19 patients in intensive care Tuesday out of 191 in hospital.
Six recent deaths were in a long-term care home in Wakaw, Sask., a town roughly 100 kilometres northeast of Saskatoon. All 44 residents in Lakeview Pioneer Lodge tested positive for COVID-19.
The lodge has also reported that 40 of its 68 staff have contracted the virus. One resident remains in intensive care.
The Health Ministry said that 22 personal and long-term care homes have reported COVID-19 cases to date.
Shahab said a continuing rise in cases can only be avoided if there is "universal compliance" with public-health advice. He cautioned that even a small number of rule-breakers could cause cases to surge.
He and Moe warned harsher measures could be on the way if the situation doesn't get better, but said it's too early to say if an improvement would lead to some rules being relaxed.
"If there is a measure that I hear about and that I would like to expand, not greatly, but slightly, would be us keeping in our single households. That is a tough one for families," said Moe.
"It's a tough one for extended families, for grandparents."
Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili said the measures are failing to contain the spread of the virus and he urged Moe to release more modelling data to show where the province is headed.
"Continuing to do something that isn't working means more people will get sick and more people will die," Meili said.
Meili, who has earlier called for non-essential businesses to close for several weeks, said he believes a sharp circuit-breaker remains a reasonable approach.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2021.