'Enough is enough:' Saskatchewan premier floats tougher COVID-19 enforcement

REGINA — Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said Tuesday he won't shut down all restaurants and bars because a few are flouting COVID-19 rules.

Instead, he said, he has asked public-health officials to look at more enforcement measures beyond handing out fines, such as forcing rule breakers to close "indefinitely."

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"I don't believe that we need new measures put in place to bend the COVID curve here in Saskatchewan. What we need is everyone to follow the measures that are in place," Moe said at a news briefing Tuesday.

"Enough is enough."

For months, Moe has rejected calls to return the province to an economywide shutdown in the face of rising COVID-19 cases. He has opted to allow retail businesses, restaurants and bars to stay open, but with reduced capacity, and a prohibition on activities like dancing and mingling between tables.

But that was exactly the behaviour on display in a recent video circulating online that shows young people partying at a bar in Regina.

"The question I ask myself is do we need to punish all of the restaurants, many that are adhering to the public-health orders that are in place, because there are these few that are not?" said Moe.

"I would say no we don't."

The premier contrasted the bar footage to a petition sitting on his desk that he said has been signed by thousands of families who want the province to allow kids to play competitive hockey.

All team sports outside of practices for athletes 18 and younger have been banned because health officials cited recreational sports as leading to infections in some schools and workplaces.

"At the very same time as we have these adults asking for their children to participate in a sport like hockey, we see a video of a number of adults that are selfishly and drunkenly dancing," Moe said.

Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, announced another 309 new infections and said the province's daily case average remains stuck at about 300. Six more residents were also reported to have died from the virus, while 207 were in hospital, 31 of them in intensive care.

Even with a stubborn caseload — which has made Saskatchewan the jurisdiction with the highest rate of active cases per capita in Canada —Shahab said it's promising that the test positivity rate sits at 10 per cent, down from about 12 per cent.

Still, he warned that more people are ending up in hospital and intensive care because of the virus. And it's when this pressure builds up on health-care systems, he says, that leaders have no choice but to bring down the strictest possible measures to avoid widespread collapse.

"We may not be there yet," Shahab said.

He added that said many of the province's outbreaks are tied to people not following public-health rules in places like bars, at funerals and outside.

No more than 30 people are allowed to gather for weddings and funerals. The current health order, which is set to expire next Friday, also prohibits households from having guests over and caps outdoor get-togethers to 10.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 19, 2020

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