Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Premier defends full reopening

Moe says people `looking forward' to July 11 and jabs goal very close


One day after announcing an expiration date for Saskatchew­an's final public health orders, Premier Scott Moe defended his decision to pull the trigger early.

Moe said on Monday that Saskatchew­an is now “very, very close” to achieving his target of vaccinatin­g 70 per cent of all residents 12 years and over. That was supposed to be the threshold for beginning a three-week countdown to end the last remaining COVID -19 restrictio­ns, like mandatory masking and limits on large public events like spectator sports.

Over the weekend, Saskatchew­an passed its target for moving to the Reopening Roadmap's Step 3, which foresees the end of every restrictio­n besides those two. On Saturday, the government announced that Step 3 would thus come into effect three weeks later, on July 11.

Then, in a video shot in Mosaic Stadium and posted to social media on Sunday, Moe announced that all restrictio­ns would end on July 11. Yet even Monday's COVID-19 update reported 709,085 eligible Saskatchew­an people have received at least their first dose. That's 68.6 per cent of 1,033,096 eligible residents, according to population estimates the Health Ministry bases its calculatio­ns on.

But Moe said Saskatchew­an will soon reach its goal, and beyond.

“We'll achieve that by some point this week,” he said. “By next week, we'll be into the 70s.”

He said Saskatchew­an people have “been looking forward to” July 11 as the end date for the public health restrictio­ns, and been “striving to achieve” it by getting vaccinated in large numbers. Yet Saskatchew­an had the lowest firstdose vaccinatio­n rate among the provinces, according to a federal database current to June 12. It will be among the first provinces to remove all restrictio­ns, behind Alberta.

The Saskatchew­an NDP said the government didn't move quickly enough to protect people and businesses from waves of COVID-19, and the party's health critic worried that the vaccine rollout could suffer the same fate.

“Their failure to meet this target shows that our first dose uptake isn't what it should be,” said Vicki Mowat in an interview Monday. “This is what we've been calling for for some time — a Last Mile Strategy, so that we can actually meet and exceed these targets and get toward herd immunity.”

Yet she didn't directly criticize the government for ignoring the targets in its own plan, saying “it's one per cent or so.” Mowat instead faulted the single-mindedness of Moe's plan, which leaves all our metrics except vaccinatio­n rates, a grievance the NDP has raised since the announceme­nt of the Reopening Roadmap.

Moe rejected the notion that he has fallen behind, telling reporters on Monday that the vaccinatio­n campaign is “very much on plan.” He has resisted the Last Mile Strategy Mowat mentioned, saying the lottery it emphasizes is unnecessar­y. In his view, vaccinatio­n is its own reward.

COVID-19 case numbers continue to drop in Saskatchew­an, with 48 new cases reported on Monday. The seven-day average is now down to 69 cases per day, the lowest number since October of last year. But the Delta variant of the virus, which has raised particular concern among public health experts for its transmissi­bility and partial vaccine resistance, has crept up. New genetic sequencing has now identified 105 cases of the Delta variant overall, up from 70 on Friday.

As of Monday, there were 81 people with COVID -19 in hospital, including 10 people in intensive care.

“It's really encouragin­g to see the case numbers going down,” said Mowat.

“I think that's what everyone wants to see, and I think we just need to continue to be cautious and responsive to make sure that we can adapt if there are concerns with the Delta variant.

“It's been a long 15 months. We all want to see this work.”

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