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Dr. Saqib Shahab, chief medical health officer in Saskatchewan, says 'we can’t escape' an Omicron-fuelled surge of COVID-19 cases in the province.Michael Bell /The Canadian Press

New COVID-19 projections suggest case numbers will sharply rise in Saskatchewan without stronger public health measures, but the province is not expecting to tighten restrictions for the holidays.

“We will see a surge with Omicron, we can’t escape that,” Dr. Saqib Shahab, chief medical health officer, said Tuesday.

The projections released by the province suggest that Omicron-driven cases and hospitalizations will increase dramatically by the end of the month without stronger interventions. It suggested there could be more than 300 daily infections at the start of 2022.

It could be significantly curbed, the projections said, with stronger public health measures such as limiting group sizes and capacity.

Shahab said he will be watching the situation closely and the government’s response must be proportionate, fast and flexible. He encouraged people to be cautious, but did not require people to gather in smaller groups.

“Actions taken over the holidays will project if and when we see a surge,” he said.

There were 67 cases reported Tuesday and 98 people in hospital due to COVID-19, including 30 people in intensive care.

Shahab said Omicron is not dominant in Saskatchewan, although it is expected to spread widely in a few weeks.

Testing has identified 82 Omicron cases in the province and Shahab said two-thirds are from international or interprovincial travel.

Many regions across the country have tightened public health restrictions as Omicron cases increase. Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, urged people last week to “carefully consider and adjust your holiday plans to minimize risks.”

It’s not clear the severity of illness caused by Omicron, Tam said, but the sheer number of infections could overwhelm health-care systems.

Shahab said that he had recommended internally to the government that people in Saskatchewan need to reduce contacts by 50 per cent. No further restrictions have been implemented, with the province releasing holiday guidelines for rapid testing and ventilation instead.

He urged people to get vaccinated and booster shots to help lessen the impact of the highly transmissible variant.

Projections showed unvaccinated people in Saskatchewan were six times more likely to test positive for COVID-19, 14 times more likely to end up in hospital, and 23 times more likely to require intensive care than those who are fully vaccinated.

Marlo Pritchard, president of the Saskatchewan Public Safety Agency, suggested people use rapid tests before gathering with family and friends.

“As we approach this holiday season, I want to take this opportunity to remind everyone to be smart, diligent with their family events and how we plan to gather together,” he said.

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