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Saskatchewan Health Minister Paul Merriman, right, speaks as Premier Scott Moe looks on during a news conference in Regina, on Dec. 9, 2020.Michael Bell /The Canadian Press

A group of 285 Saskatchewan physicians have banded together to urge the provincial government to implement stricter COVID-19 health measures and vaccinate younger essential workers.

The doctors’ names are on a letter sent Friday to Premier Scott Moe and Health Minister Paul Merriman that said intensive care admissions are at an all-time high with younger, previously healthy people.

“Many of these (people) are essential service workers and those from lower socio-economic status groups who cannot stay home or cannot isolate from their families if someone is sick,” the letter read.

“There have been more cases in youth under the age of 19 and more cases in schools.”

The doctors said they want the government to step up public-health measures across the province to be consistent with what is in place in Regina.

The capital region has become a hot spot for the more contagious COVID-19 variants, forcing the government to implement stricter rules.

In Regina and some surrounding communities, private indoor gatherings are limited to household members, restaurants are closed for in-person dining, in-person worship services are capped at 30 people and all event venues are shuttered.

Restrictions in the rest of the province include allowing individual households to have up to 10 people at a time from two to three different households. Worship services can also have up to 30 per cent of a building’s seating capacity or 150 attendees, whichever is less.

“Our current measures are not enough. Our system will not cope with these more aggressive, more contagious and more lethal variants,” the doctors’ letter said.

“Without further action, both our health-care system and the economy will be further devastated.”

Health officials reported Friday 358 new cases of COVID-19 and six new deaths. Since the pandemic began, 453 people have died in Saskatchewan due to the virus.

A total of 3,086 variants of concern have been identified by screening in Saskatchewan, the province said. There were 206 people in hospital with the illness and, of those, 43 were in intensive care.

The doctors’ letter also said the government should provide immediate economic support for those whose livelihoods have been affected by the pandemic, as well as give paid sick time to all essential workers.

“Vaccinations are the light at the end of the tunnel, but we are not close enough to the end to rely solely on them,” the physicians wrote.

They have also urged the province to rethink its age-based immunization strategy, saying that younger health-care and front-line workers will not receive the vaccine fast enough to protect them.

All those workers and people at higher risk due to socio-economic factors as well as medical risks should be prioritized, the doctors said.

Earlier in the week, the Saskatchewan Medical Association also criticized the age-based vaccination plan.

The association said Wednesday that the government’s refusal to immediately vaccinate essential workers, including physicians and health-care workers who have not yet received their shots, “will result in more deaths and long-term illness.”

The Saskatchewan Party government was not immediately available for comment on the letter, but has said changing its age-based strategy would slow the rate of people getting the shots.

Vicki Mowat, the Opposition NDP’s health critic, said in a statement Friday that ignoring the experts has led to a “slow motion lockdown,” which doesn’t get the pandemic under control or get people back to work.

“The premier had the opportunity in November, when the second wave was hitting our province, to take the right steps and introduce a short-term circuit breaker,” Mowat said.

“But he ignored the experts then, as he’s ignoring them now.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 9, 2021.

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