Premier Scott Moe says his Saskatchewan Party government will soon end COVID-19 measures that he says restrict people’s rights and freedoms.
“COVID is not ending, but government restrictions on your rights and freedoms — those will be ending, and ending very soon,” Moe said in a four-minute video posted Wednesday night on social media.
It’s no longer necessary for the public to assess every activity, including going to a movie, watching children’s sporting events or dining out, he said.
“What’s necessary is your freedom. What’s necessary is getting your life back to normal, and it’s time.”
It’s impossible to eliminate COVID-19, Moe said, so society must learn to live with the virus and make use of the protection vaccines, antiviral treatments and testing provide.
The Omicron variant is less severe and people who are vaccinated can still catch it, the premier said, so Saskatchewan will manage COVID-19 in the same way it does common respiratory viruses.
The latest data from the government of Saskatchewan shows the unvaccinated are infected at a rate of 447 per 100,000 people. The rate drops to 380 for those with two doses and to 356 for those with a booster shot.
Moe says in the video it’s time to lift restrictions because vaccinated people are getting infected at a similar rate as the unvaccinated.
“I’m concerned that COVID being the constant topic of conversation and dictating our daily lives will have a negative impact on each of us in the province,” he said.
“And calls for daily government intrusion into people’s lives, skepticism regarding anything remotely positive related to COVID, this perpetual state of crisis is having a harmful impact on everyone.”
Dr. Saqib Shahab, chief medical health officer, said broad public health orders can have societal effects that go beyond health care. An unintended consequence of measures can include depression, he said.
“Public health is ultimately the responsibility of elected governments — whether federal or provincial — and it’s always been a matter of balancing the benefit (of restrictions) versus the risk,” Shahab said.
Saskatchewan’s public health orders include a mask mandate in indoor public spaces, a requirement to self-isolate if positive for COVID-19 and proof of vaccination to enter most establishments. They are set to expire at the end of the February, but Moe said that could happen sooner depending on hospitalizations and advice from health officials.
Moe’s comments have attracted praise from some who feel measures have run their course, and criticism from the Saskatchewan Medical Association, which says restrictions are still needed to mitigate the spread of Omicron.
Tamara Lich, a key leader of the “Convoy for Freedom” protest in Ottawa, said Moe is taking leadership in Canada to end restrictions.
“Hopefully these words will turn into long-lasting action,” Lich said Thursday.
A convoy is planned at the Saskatchewan legislature for Saturday. Protesters have said they will stay until restrictions are lifted.
Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said Moe is playing “footsie with extremists. He urged the premier to denounce Saturday’s rally in Regina.
“To the people who might come to Regina and try to occupy the legislature, go home. It’s not smart, it’s not safe and it’s not right,” the NDP leader said.
“Scott Moe, show some … leadership. Tell these people to stay … out of Regina. There’s no place for this kind of garbage.”
While Saskatchewan’s Omicron wave appears to be at its peak, the lag time between infection, testing and illness means hospitalizations are expected to rise in the coming weeks, said Shahab. On Thursday, there were a record 384 people in Saskatchewan hospitals with COVID-19 and 37 in intensive care.
—Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press