When Premier Scott Moe announced on March 23 a return to several COVID-19 pubic health measures for Regina and the surrounding bedroom communities, those measures were somewhat along the lines of what the Official Opposition New Democratic Party had called for earlier in the day. However, they did not go as far as what the NDP was seeking.
In November, the Official Opposition New Democratic Party called for a short-term “circuit breaker” province-wide to curb the spread of COVID-19; effectively very strong restrictions limiting personal interactions and business. While the Saskatchewan Party government did bring in additional public health restrictions, including effectively banning visiting people’s homes in most cases, it did not go to the extreme restrictions that either the NDP had been calling for here, or that Manitoba had implemented.
In recent weeks, the government has eased up slightly on restrictions province-wide, including allowing home visits and “bubbles” of up to three family totalling up to 10 people. But at the same time, COVID-19 “variants of concern” have become an increasing issue in Regina, where the vast majority of these variants of concern have been showing up. As a result, the NDP is once again calling for a circuit breaker, except focused on Regina.
Talking to reporters by Zoom from Regina on March 23, NDP Deputy Leader Nicole Sarauer said, “We now must call for something that no one wants: a short-term, targeted circuit breaker in Regina and area. This includes reducing household bubbles to pre-March 9 levels, continuing to target vaccination to Regina an area, moving bars and restaurants to delivery and take out only, moving as many workers as possible to work from home arrangements, particularly those in the civil service and Crown sectors.”
Most of those measures, save the “circuit breaker,” were announced by Moe a few hours later.
Sarauer added, “It also includes staffing up in contact tracing and support for those who need time off work to isolate, advising strongly against any unnecessary travel to and from Regina, providing supports to school kids need access to technology, and childcare for central workers, supporting local businesses access federal wage and rent subsidies, and provincial investments to fill the gaps, and quickly expanding these measures to other communities, should there be evidence of variants spread elsewhere.”
Sarauer said, “We believe these measures will help get case numbers under control, and prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed, while the vaccines are deployed.”
NDP Leader Ryan Meili said from Saskatoon, “We're here because the premier failed to act. The most dangerous thing for our economy, and our health right now, is Scott Moe, and his lack of leadership and getting this pandemic under control. He saw the modelling. He didn't share it with the public, but he had. He knew this was coming, and instead of getting ahead of it, he actually chose to reduce public health measures, putting people at greater danger. (He) didn't listen to doctors, didn't listen to public health experts, to economists, because he only cared about the politics.
“He didn't have the courage to do anything more than tell people what he thought they wanted to hear. And what we're seeing in Regina, these more contagious, more dangerous variants, the fast spread of cases, the younger and sicker patients filling up our ICUs, is a direct result of Scott Moe’s failure’s. Saskatchewan has led the country in new COVID-19 cases per capita for most of 2021. We've lost hundreds of people unnecessarily,” Meili said, adding 23,000 jobs have been lost.
Meili said businesses could access federal supports if they were ordered to close. “Because of this premier, we're in the absurd position where businesses are told to stay open and can't access federal supports, as a result, and their customers are told to stay home. The absurd situation where bars and restaurants are open, but our schools are closed, because school divisions have been forced to act as this government sits on its hands.”
Asked about their statements on modelling, and the fact that previous dire predictions of calamitous new case rates have not played out, Health Critic Vicki Mowat, also in Saskatoon, said one of their biggest concerns from the beginning has been “this government's lack of transparency around modeling.”
“So we have called repeatedly, along with members of the media, along with public health experts, make this modeling public. It shouldn't be that a certain set of people get access to that modeling.”
She added, “We have experts who are guiding us; we need to be listening to those experts. You know we have folks who work in these particular areas. We shouldn't be basing these decisions off of politics and gut feelings. They should be based on the facts that are in front of us. So it's incredibly important that we get this modeling in front of the people of the province, And that way, government can be held accountable for their actions that it's done so in a transparent fashion.”
That way government can be held accountable, she said.
Meili added, “When it comes to the modeling, there are two main sort of points in our recent history. One is about a year ago, when we saw the modeling for what would happen without measures, and thankfully, what we saw was far less, and that's because we took measures and they work. This is the classic paradox of public health; when things work, people imagine that you overreacted. But we actually did the right things, then that resulted in us not seeing a situation nearly as bad as we could have.
“This fall, the government presented modeling with a best case scenario which we have far outstripped, in terms of the number of cases and number of deaths, because they did not quickly. It could have been much worse had we not introduced masking had we not introduced number of other measures, but it still was far worse than it should have been, it could have been, had this government been honest with the modeling and taken that quick circuit breaker action back in November. Which is why, once again, be honest with the modeling, take the right actions now and hopefully, geez, what I would love is to look back three months and have everyone saying we overreacted because it worked, because that's not how I'm feeling right now about the last six months.”