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Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says about one in five residents and staff in long-term care homes in the province have been fully immunized against COVID-19.

During a briefing Tuesday, he said they have received both shots of one of the two-dose vaccines that provide protection from the novel coronavirus. About 50 per cent have had their first shot.

The Premier said he’s confident the volume of vaccine shipments will increase in March.

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Moe also announced that current public health restrictions will remain until March 19. That means households are still banned from having visitors – a rule first brought down in December.

“We’re in the final stretch,” Moe said. “There is some hope on the way.”

Restrictions were set to expire on Friday. Other measures that remain in effect are a ban on sports teams playing games and the closure of bingo halls and casinos.

Retail businesses, restaurants and bars are allowed to have customers, but under restricted capacity. A curfew on alcohol service remains.

Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer says this week marks the second in which new daily COVID-19 cases have consistently stayed below 200. Another 136 new infections were recorded Tuesday, along with three more deaths.

Dr. Saqib Shahab warned that although the province’s situation is improving, things can change rapidly and variants of the virus are a concern. Officials plan to re-evaluate the virus’s spread next month, which will factor in the pace of vaccinations, he said.

“The reality is that we see transmission in households very quickly and that can ... negate all the ground we’ve covered,” he said.

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Shahab described how he had walked around his house with an open tape measure and couldn’t see how any visitors would be able to properly physically distance from everyone else.

The Ministry of Health reports having administered nearly 50,000 doses of vaccine to date and plans to send the first batches to long-term care homes in Swift Current, situated in the province’s southwest, which has two active infections.

Moe also announced that the province’s criteria for priority vaccinations will be expanded from those in long-term care homes and people over 70 to an estimated 11,500 more health-care workers.

Last week, his Saskatchewan Party government faced criticism from unions, a doctor’s association and the Opposition NDP for not prioritizing more health-care workers before immunizing the general public, beginning with people in their 60s.

Now, doctors and pharmacists who will be helping with mass inoculations will be eligible for early shots, as will staff in operating rooms, radiology technicians and workers providing home care.

The province hopes to begin its vaccine rollout to the general public in April, but has said it could be pushed back if there isn’t enough supply.

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