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Opposition calls on Saskatchewan premier to create dedicated COVID-19 committee

·3 min read

REGINA — The Saskatchewan Opposition wants Premier Scott Moe to convene a multi-sector working group to deal with the province's increasing spread of COVID-19. 

NDP Leader Ryan Meili wrote in a letter to the premier Tuesday that more people are falling ill and ending up in hospital because the Saskatchewan Party government's approach isn't working.

Health officials on Tuesday reported 175 new daily cases of COVID-19. Some 105 people were in hospital, 20 of them in intensive care. The seven-day average of daily cases in the province stood at 209. 

Meili said he wants Moe to assemble a group with the NDP,  health and education officials, and representatives from business, labour and Indigenous communities. The group would come up with a co-ordinated approach to get the virus's spread under control and to share important information and advice. 

"The COVID-19 situation is moving quickly in Saskatchewan," Meili wrote. 

"Every day presents an opportunity to take additional action to slow the spread and provide the support families, communities and businesses need to make it through this challenging time."

In a statement, Moe said public-health officials are already listening to the groups Meili listed in his letter for input on virus-prevention guidelines. 

"We will continue to do so," Moe said. 

The premier was to provide an update on the province's fight against COVID-19 on Tuesday from his home in Shellbrook, Sask., where he was self-isolating after getting tested for COVID-19. But the briefing was postponed until Wednesday.

"Further measures are under active consideration and development," communications director Jim Billington wrote in a statement. 

"The decision was made to postpone the press conference to allow for additional actions to be developed and communicated to the public tomorrow afternoon."

Billington said Moe was asymptomatic and waiting for his test results. 

Public-health officials have spent the last two weeks issuing stark warnings about needing to limit people's number of contacts to slow the virus's spread and relieve pressure on contact tracers.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority said the province's daily test positive rate from Nov. 12 to Nov. 18 sat at 6.7 per cent. In an update posted online Monday, the authority said the test positivity rate was highest in adults between 20 to 39 and lowest in children under 10.

It also said COVID-19 was primarily spreading through households and close contacts, while 25 per cent of transmission was coming from recreational facilities such as ice rinks, bingo halls and casinos. 

Weddings, funerals and house parties were the next most likely source of infection.

Cases have also been found in different schools across the province, as well as personal and long-care homes.

The Ministry of Corrections and Policing said four inmates in jails in Saskatoon and Regina have COVID-19. Twelve correctional staff have also tested positive, eight of whom work at the Saskatoon Correctional Centre, while the others are at facilities in Regina and Prince Albert. 

A spokesman said all offenders are to receive masks.

Moe has rejected calls from hundreds of doctors, a nurses union and the Opposition to close non-essential businesses, including gyms, casinos and bars, for two to three weeks to keep the health-care system from being overwhelmed by hospitalizations.

On the weekend, he told a radio talk show that a shutdown would mean disaster for small businesses and his government would look at all other options to avoid sweeping closures. 

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 24, 2020.

Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press