COVID-19 variants result in recommendation to avoid non-essential travel in or out of Regina

With the Regina zone accounting for 90 per cent of the confirmed variants of concern in Saskatchewan, the province is asking the public to be vigilant to help control the spread of these concerning variants.

Regina and area residents are being asked to focus on the existing Public Health Orders, and those travelling to the area area asked to abide by the “best personal protective measures” or avoid the region all together.

“This is not the time to travel out of Regina or come into Regina for things that are not essential, because we want to minimize the export of variants to other communities unnecessarily, and minimize people coming into Regina getting exposed to variants of concern as much as you can,” Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab said during a COVID-19 update on March 16.

“What we already know about variants is they’re 70 per cent more transmittable. So (we need to continue doing) everything that we were doing to keep things under control, and everything that’s allowing cases to continue trending downward in the rest of the province,” Dr. Shahab said.

As of Tuesday’s update, Saskatchewan boasted a seven-day average of daily new case rate per 100,000 people of 11.3, and the 1,292 active cases was the lowest number of active cases since November 9. However, Regina posted 535 of the province’s active cases, with Saskatoon second at 211 active cases.

“What we’re seeing in Regina is the opposite of the rest of the province. Regina case numbers are going up per 100,000. They’re now at 21. Very concerning,” Dr. Shahab said.

It was noted during the COVID-19 update that the bulk of new COVID-19 cases are variants of concern, with screening picking up variants in a wide portion of Saskatchewan. And while there were 135 confirmed variants of concern cases across the province, of which 121 were reported in the Regina zone, there were an additional 433 presumptive variants of concern cases in five other zones (Regina – 368; South Central – 27; South East – 19; Saskatoon – 12; Central East – 6; and Far North East – 1).

With Saskatchewan having just passed the one year declaration of the pandemic, Dr. Shahab noted has finally reached a key point in the road. The roll out of vaccinations is coming along well, but an additional vaccine focus is currently being placed into Regina to increase population level immunity more quickly.

“It is going to take four to six weeks for the bulk of 50 plus to get vaccinated, the most vulnerable. And then by the end of May early June hopefully everyone 18 and older would have stepped forward and gotten the first dose, and then it takes two or three weeks to get some immunity from the first dose. So hopefully by mid June the entire adult population of Saskatchewan will have good immunity from the first dose, and well before that second doses would have started.”

Premier Scott Moe noted there is “cautious optimism” as the province prepares to move into Phase Two of the Vaccination Roll-out strategy.

Last Thursday the province launched the online and phone booking system for vaccination appointment, and during the first five full days of the system being online they had booked 58,000 appointments at the network of 100 clinics across province. A drive-thru clinic in Regina delivered a one day high of 1,700 shots, while on March 15 a single day record of 4,000 vaccines were delivered across the province.

“As we continue in this province to receive larger numbers of vaccines this does provide us more flexibility to focus our vaccination efforts on what would be hot spots in the province. So right now, as we said due to the higher number of cases in Regina, as well as the higher number of variants present in Regina, one of those hot spots is Regina,” Premier Moe said on Tuesday.

“So while we’re continuing to vaccinate people in every part of this province, and we’re doing so as we speak, we will be directing additional doses to Regina in the days ahead.”