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Leaked government modelling indicates Saskatchewan’s COVID-19 hospitalizations will reach record levels by mid-February if people don’t reduce gathering sizes.

It says a best-case scenario would see more than 500 patients admitted – nearly double what the province experienced last fall during the Delta wave.

Six of Saskatchewan’s largest unions, representing 113,000 front-line workers, are demanding more safety measures to blunt the rise in hospitalizations.

During a joint news conference Thursday, they asked Premier Scott Moe to immediately bring in recommendations made by Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab. They would include capping social gatherings at 10 and urging people to limit interprovincial travel

Tracy Zambory, president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses, said workers are stretched thin and health care facilities don’t have staff or space for more patients.

“The Premier is taking a huge gamble with the system, the ability for the system to function. He is gambling with the lives of the citizens of Saskatchewan and he’s gambling with the lives of health care workers and teachers,” Ms. Zambory said.

“It’s up to us to stop that gambling.”

Mr. Moe posted on Facebook earlier this week that the government will continue to promote preventive measures, including rapid tests and booster shots, instead of more public-health measures.

In a statement Thursday, Mr. Moe said modelling is one source of information the Saskatchewan Party government considers, but it places a “greater emphasis on closely tracking actual real-time data from across Canada to inform our COVID-19 response.”

Mr. Moe pointed to the province’s hospitalization rate – 18.2 for every 100,000 people – which is 34 per cent below the national rate of 27.5.

Dr. Shahab has said Saskatchewan is the last province to experience the Omicron wave and is two to three weeks behind the rest of Canada.

COVID-19 hospitalizations have increased 114 per cent in the last month to 215, including 23 patients receiving intensive care. During the province’s Delta peak, there were 356 in hospital, the most during the pandemic.

“The government recognizes that hospitalizations are rising and will continue to rise for some period of time,” Mr. Moe said. “However, we see no clear evidence that lockdown measures have reduced hospitalizations, ICU admissions and deaths in other provinces and, as a result, there is no reason to impose harmful new restrictions in Saskatchewan.”

Epidemiologist Nazeem Muhajarine said Moe’s suggestion that public-health orders don’t work is “a real head-scratcher.”

“I don’t know where the Premier is getting his information and advice from to be saying that publicly,” Dr. Muhajarine said. “It just doesn’t have any science behind it, any data behind it or any demonstrative practices behind it.”

He said Saskatchewan can’t compare itself with Quebec or Ontario – which have faced record hospitalizations during their Omicron wave – because it’s not known how much higher hospitalizations could have been if there had been no public-health measures in those provinces.

Mr. Moe’s comments also counter what scientists and doctors know about outbreaks, not just COVID-19, but all infectious diseases, Dr. Muhajarine said.

“You have to keep infectious people separated from everyone else. It’s pure and simple. And to say it’s not needed during any wave, during any variant of concern, is false. It really is false.”

Dr. Alexander Wong, an infectious-disease physician with the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said the government’s individualistic approach doesn’t protect the health care system or society’s most vulnerable.

“Pushing it all to personal choice and responsibility allows the people with money, power and privilege to make choices – to make good choices, educated choices – but at the same time it completely disadvantages people who don’t have the ability to make those choices,” Dr. Wong said.

“And at the same time, it pushes all the blame to individuals, and away from elected officials and that is the wrong narrative. All accountability needs to fall to elected officials.”

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