Dentist offices, hairdressers, golf courses and retail stores could be allowed to reopen starting in May under Saskatchewan’s plan to refire parts of its economy during the COVID-19 crisis.
The five-phase plan presented Thursday includes timelines for when businesses and services shuttered to protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus might be allowed to open their doors.
Premier Scott Moe has said the number of COVID-19 cases will be monitored throughout each phase and the government will only move ahead if the infection rate stays low. In a televised speech Wednesday night, he said health officials are looking to increase testing and contact tracing.
So far, Saskatchewan has reported 331 cases of COVID-19 and four deaths.
As some other provinces consider reopening some parts of their economies, Saskatchewan is the first to release a detailed plan with dates, timelines and instructions for businesses.
“Some may be concerned that this is far too soon, that reopening businesses in the coming weeks could increase the spread of COVID-19,” Moe told a news conference.
“We have to find the middle ground that continues to keep our case numbers low and keep Saskatchewan people safe, while at the same time allowing for businesses to reopen and Saskatchewan people to get back to work.”
SASKATCHEWAN RE-OPEN PLAN
- Restrictions are to lift first for medical services such as dentists, optometrists and physical therapy on May 4. That also applies to fishing and boat launches.
- Golf courses could be allowed to reopen on May 15, followed on May 19 by retail shops that sell clothing, flowers, books, sporting goods and toys.
- The plan says hairdressers, barbers, massage therapists and acupuncturists could also begin seeing clients again May 19, but employees working directly with customers would have to wear masks.
- Businesses would be expected to maintain strict cleanliness standards as well as physical distancing. Operators would be asked to screen clients and wear masks and gloves if those measures were not possible.
- Next, officials would consider lifting restrictions on restaurants, gyms and daycare centres, but there’s no dates for when that may happen. There’s also no time frame for allowing indoor and outdoor recreational and entertainment facilities to operate, although parks and campgrounds can open June 1.
- The final phase of the plan includes lifting restrictions on crowd sizes, visits to long-term care facilities and non-essential travel. Moe has already said those will stay put for some time.
“This is what we had felt collectively is a good place to start to reopen some of the services that the Saskatchewan people require,” said Moe.
He added that many essential businesses like grocery stores are already open and no outbreak has been tied to one in the province. Medical services like dental offices already use protective equipment and have been doing emergency procedures throughout the pandemic.
The goal wasn’t for Saskatchewan to be first to come out with a detailed plan, said Moe.
He said he has already shared the plan with the federal government and some of the provinces. British Columbia, Alberta, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick are among those that asked for it.
“We are all in different places when it comes to COVID-19.”
Moe also said he doesn’t think it would be unexpected to see a small increase in cases, as Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer said transmission of the coronavirus will continue.
Opposition NDP Leader Ryan Meili said he has many questions about what the criteria will be for moving ahead with the different phases of the plan.
And he wonders why leisure activities like golfing, fishing and camping are prioritized to open, when they are tied to travel and tourism and “connect to people going to remote communities that we really want to make sure are protected.”
He also renewed his call for the Saskatchewan Party government to introduce legislative oversight so the plan can be properly scrutinized.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 23, 2020
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press