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La Ronge and Stony Rapids are now included in the COVID-19 travel restrictions for northern Saskatchewan, Premier Scott Moe announced Wednesday.

The town of La Ronge sent a letter last week to Moe asking that the province redraw the boundaries of a public health order to exclude it from the increased travel restrictions.

La Ronge council sent a letter to the premier requesting for public health lines to be redrawn and to spare them from new travel restrictions in the far north region. The council reversed its position after facing scrutiny from neighbouring municipalities and constituents. Photograph by Michael Bramadat-Willcock.

“We see today that the communities of Stony Rapids and La Ronge have both joined with all of the other communities in the Northern Administration District as well, asking to be included in the travel restrictions that we have in place,” Moe told reporters.

Having neglected to consult the neighbouring communities of Lac La Ronge Indian Band and the northern village of Air Ronge or their own constituents before sending the letter, council reversed its position and asked the province to include La Ronge after all.

The three communities share infrastructure and entry and exit points where Highway 2 becomes Highway 102 going north.

“With this decision, the town has gotten on the same page as the village and the band so that we can all work together to make sure that we don’t get the virus here,” La Ronge Mayor Ron Woytowich told National Observer after the vote on Sunday.

He apologized for supporting the exemption request without first consulting partner communities.

La Ronge Mayor Ron Woytowich told National Observer that he regretted voting for the exemption 10 minutes after he got home that night. Woytowich supported reversing the town's position and appologized. Photograph by Michael Bramadat-Willcock

​​​​​​“We work together for so many things. We have one fire department and it goes everywhere. We have one garbage dump and everybody uses it. Same with the water. And then suddenly we didn’t even bother working with them on something as important as that and I really feel bad about that, I personally do,” Woytowich said.

“With this decision, the town has gotten on the same page as the village and the band so that we can all work together to make sure that we don’t get the virus here,” La Ronge Mayor Ron Woytowich.

Wednesday’s announcement by the premier makes that commitment official.

The public health order restricting non-essential travel in the Northern Saskatchewan Administration District will be amended to include La Ronge and Stony Rapids effective May 6. These measures are intended to help ensure that only essential travel happens in the north and to help stop the spread of the virus.

“This is not a situation that I think any of us anticipated or would look forward to, but it’s one that we’re faced with and we will face it shoulder-to-shoulder with the community leaders throughout the north,” Moe said.

“We have sent now over 60 conservation officers up into northern Saskatchewan and the northwestern parts of this province to support the checkpoints that the communities have put in place,” Moe said.

The province also promised to increase COVID-19 testing and contact tracing in the far north, particularly in the northwest and the La Loche area.

Moe said that as of Wednesday, there are 25 new cases of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan, bringing the provincial total to 512. Twenty-four of those new cases are in the far north, in La Loche and the surrounding area.

Cases and Risk of COVID-19 in Saskatchewan. The province recorded 25 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, putting the province’s total to more than 500. Most of the new cases are in the far north and north regions. Graphic courtesy of Government of Saskatchewan.

“The outbreak in the far north continues to be very serious for this province and we continue to monitor the situation to ensure that the necessary supports are in place,” Moe said.

Reopening is still on the table for the rest of the province, though.

“While obviously the outbreak in La Loche and area is very concerning, when we look at the table showing active cases, we can see that apart from the far north and the north … things are pretty quiet in the rest of Saskatchewan, which enables us to proceed with the reopening Saskatchewan plan for the rest of the province,” chief medical health officer Saqib Shahab said.

Michael Bramadat-Willcock/Local Journalism Initiative/Canada's National Observer