By Brian Zinchuk
Local Journalism Initiative reporter
Regina-Saskatchewan New Democratic Party (NDP) Leader Ryan Meili is calling for a “circuit breaker,” essentially another lockdown, to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Meili made this call on Nov. 18, a day after the provincial government brought in another round of restrictions, implementing a province-wide mask mandate and limiting in-home gatherings to five people.
Meili said he’s spoken to seniors and their families worried about their health, small business owners and their employees scared about what more serious measures now might mean for their bottom line, but are even more scared about what happens if we fail to take action.
“I’d hoped we wouldn’t have to do this. I’d hoped that as soon as numbers started to rise, we’d see swift action from Premier Moe and his government. I’d hoped he’d be honest and transparent about the reality of our situation. I’d hoped we wouldn’t have seen the COVID 19 pandemic get worse here in Saskatchewan to the point that our hospitals are being overwhelmed in contact tracing is becoming nearly impossible. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened.
“We’re calling on the government to implement a temporary three-week circuit breaker, a circuit breaker to bring the virus under control and allow us a better chance, a better chance of protecting our health or protecting our economy and of giving us some hope for the kind of holiday season we all want to enjoy with family and friends.
“That circuit breaker plan would close non-essential businesses, allowing retail stores to maintain delivery and curbside service.
But allow bars and restaurants to operate takeout and delivery.
Limit essential businesses to 25% capacity. Close sports, fitness and recreation facilities, as well as bingos and casinos. And it would bring back the Saskatchewan Small Business Emergency Payment program and fix it to make it more accessible, and make sure small businesses are able to keep their employees on the payroll.”
Meili said the government should provide for small businesses gap supports, similar to what’s been offered in Manitoba, for those businesses that aren’t eligible for federal programs. He also said the province should provide small business innovation grants for business owners that wish to upgrade to online retailing, delivery platforms and virtual service delivery.
“We would bring back the moratorium on residential evictions, and stop the clawbacks to housing and food security supports. And we would keep Saskatchewan schools open; keep them open at Level 3 throughout the province, and provide the support to reduce class sizes to reduce the chance of infection in our classrooms.
Meili said, “That’s the plan. And it sounds a lot like what we were dealing with in the spring, it’s because it is. And everybody knows the spring was tough. But it worked. And that’s what matters.
“We enjoyed low numbers and a great summer, because we made those decisions in the spring, we need to do what works again. And we always knew that might be necessary. We understand the challenges this will pose for businesses and their employees. That’s why the government must act swiftly to make sure that financial supports are in place, easily accessible and rapidly delivered. Nobody wanted to be here. And we didn’t have to be, we could have seen this coming.
But this is the action that must be taken now, if we want to avoid more pain, or hardship, more sickness in the weeks and months ahead.”
Meili said he was pleading with the premier and government to do this, to make the tough calls.
The biggest difference compared to the spring would be schools remain open, and there would be some variations in which businesses close and how they could operate.
Regarding the province telling people they can’t have private gatherings at home of more than five people, but could meet in a restaurant instead, Meili said, “It’s ridiculous, right? That’s the sort of thing that I imagine the premier must have misspoke. Because if he actually thinks that’s the right advice, telling people if they can’t gather at home, so they should go to a restaurant and gather in larger numbers, if he thinks that’s the right advice, he’s really, really in over his head.”
Meili said the “slowdown,” as Premier Scott Moe put it, is clearly not sufficient. He acknowledged, “We’re all sick of this,”
but added, “But we have to realize this is for real. And for the first time in Saskatchewan, it’s here in a very serious way. Two hundred and forty cases yesterday, thousands of cases over the last few weeks and a trajectory for thousands more. This is not the time to say, `We’re going to throw up our hands and give up.’
“It’s the time, this is the moment, if there was ever a moment, for us to act and act seriously. It’s now this is the point at which we can break this trajectory, save lives, save businesses, and beat this thing. If we wait. two more weeks, three more weeks, we’re North Dakota, we’re Manitoba, where hundreds of people are dead.
Where businesses that are closed forever.”
Minister of Health Paul Merriman responded by email on Nov. 18, saying, “As Premier Moe announced yesterday, a number of new measures have been enacted to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan and slow down our individual actions without implementing a lockdown. These measures are backed by the Chief Medical Health Officer who has provided sound medical advice throughout the pandemic.
“Let’s be clear on what the NDP is calling for: a wide-scale, province-wide shut down 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, which are designed to slow down the spread of COVID-19 without shutting down businesses and putting thousands of people out of work.
“Our government will continue with our cautious, balanced approach as we consult with leaders in the hospitality, faith, recreation and athletic communities on further measures that may be necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan.”
Brian Zinchuk is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Estevan Mercury. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.