Opposition calls for shutdown of non-essential businesses in Saskatchewan

REGINA — The Opposition NDP pressed Premier Scott Moe's government Wednesday to close non-essential businesses in Saskatchewan for three weeks to better contain the spread of COVID-19.

NDP Leader Ryan Meili says the latest public-health measures announced by the governing Saskatchewan Party fall short of helping the health-care system cope with a rise in infections.

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"Right now we need leadership. We need the premier to make the tough calls and help the people of Saskatchewan get through this together," Meili said.

Starting Thursday, wearing masks in indoor public spaces will be mandatory across the province and the number of people allowed to gather in a home drops to five from 10.

The premier, citing a concern for job losses, has dismissed calls to force places such as bars, gyms and bingo halls to shut their doors.

Meili said the government has to take more aggressive measures.

He also said restaurants should be restricted to takeout and delivery, and there should be a limit on how many people can be inside places that are deemed essential.

"Every day this government fails to act the virus succeeds, infecting more people. Every day it fails to act is a day more lives are in danger and our long-term economic well-being is in danger."

The NDP also wants the government to provide added support for schools, so they can stay open with fewer students in classrooms, and to offer grants and other financial aid to help businesses stay afloat.

Health Minister Paul Merriman said in a statement the government would continue taking a balanced and cautious approach to applying restrictions.

It is set to consult about tightening guidelines for the hospitality and recreation sectors, as well as work with faith leaders to figure out how attending worship services can be made safer.

"Let's be clear on what the NDP is calling for," Merriman said.

"A wide-scale, province-wide shutdown that would put thousands of Saskatchewan people out of work. This is exactly what we are trying to avoid through the measures announced in recent days."

Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, has warned that the next two weeks will be critical in finding out whether the recent public-health measures reduce the growth in the number of virus cases or if further restrictions will be necessary.

On Wednesday, officials recorded a person in their 60s who tested positive for the virus had died, pushing the provincial death toll to 32.

There were 132 new COVID-19 infections and a rise in hospitalizations to 76. Seventeen people were in intensive care, two more than the previous day.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority announced that, due to increased infections in the area, the Union hospital in Broadview, about 150 kilometres east of Regina, had been closed to the public and was caring exclusively for COVID-19 patients and known close contacts. It said non-COVID-19 patient care needs were to be met in hospitals in surrounding rural communities.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2020.

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