The province of Saskatchewan is lifting travel restrictions in the northwest region as the third stage of its reopening plan takes effect.

“I would encourage everyone who is feeling well and is not immunocompromised to think about going out to your local gym or your local restaurant … and to continue to support those local businesses that are already open and already give back so much to our community," Premier Scott Moe said in his June 4 COVID-19 update.

“This is how our economy will recover and this is how we will bring back our jobs,” Moe said.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe is encouraging residents to support local businesses as they start to reopen while continuing to abide by social distancing guidelines. Photograph courtesy of the Government of Saskatchewan.

Businesses and services that can reopen in this phase of the province’s plan include places of worship, restaurants, gyms, child-care facilities and personal care services that did not reopen in the second phase.

The Northern Saskatchewan Administration District (NSAD) remained under stricter travel restrictions while the rest of the province began to reopen. Travel restrictions were lifted in the northeast on May 19, leaving the northwest region alone closed to traffic, with many communities still under lockdown.

Notably, the northern village of La Loche is now allowed to go forward with the first and second phases of its reopening plan as well. The northwest remains behind the rest of the province's schedule. Although travel restrictions are being lifted the region is not moving forward fully into phase three.

The virus spread into northwest Saskatchewan in part from workers travelling between the Alberta oilsands and communities such as La Loche. An outbreak in a long-term care facility had turned the community into an epicenter for the virus in the northwest.

On June 8 the province announced that two residents of the Far North region who tested positive for COVID-19 have died, bringing the total number of deaths in the province to 13. Four new cases of the virus were reported in the province bringing the total reported number of cases up to 654. Seventeen of those are considered active. Two hundred and sixty of the total cases are from the Far North region, with the deadly health-care facility outbreak in La Loche no longer considered active.

“Over the past few weeks together we have proven that we can do both of these things at the same time. We can reduce the spread of COVID-19 and we can reopen our economy safely,” Saskatchewan premier Scott Moe.
On June 8 two additional deaths were reported in the Far North region bringing the total number of death in the province to 13. The Northern Saskatchewan Administration District (NSAD) roughly corresponds to the Far North region on health authority maps. The region was divided in two when the province reopened the eastern area, even while travel restrictions for the western area remained in place. Graphic courtesy of the Government of Saskatchewan.

“Of course everybody needs to continue to follow all of the good physical distancing practices that have allowed us to control the spread of COVID-19. But if you are able to do so, please go out and support a local business,” Moe said.

“Over the past few weeks together we have proven that we can do both of these things at the same time. We can reduce the spread of COVID-19 and we can reopen our economy safely.”

Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab said it’s important to continue to follow social distancing guidelines as economic and recreational activities start again.

“I want to reinforce that it is going forward in a new normal and this new normal will continue for the foreseeable future until there’s a vaccine,” Shahab said.

The province promised to ensure increased access and availability of child-care spaces for working parents as stage three takes effect.

Starting on Monday, June 8, employees returning to work in the third phase of reopening will be offered access to “school-based child-care facilities.” The eight-person limit on children per designated space in provincial care facilities is going up to 15.

As of June 4, the province said that applications were received for 1,030 school-based child-care centre spaces, out of an available 2,170 spaces, which shows that they are operating at under 50 per cent capacity.

Dr. Shahab said that he hopes people will continue to follow social distancing guidelines while out in public.

“I strongly encourage people to read the guidelines themselves and understand what they are, so that we don’t create a challenge in terms of not complying,” Shahab said.

Travel restrictions imposed by Indigenous communities are at their own discretion. Anyone wishing to travel to an Indigenous community in the region should check to see if there is a no-visitors rule or restricted access before doing so.

Updated reopening guidelines are available online and details specific to child-care facilities during phase three can be found on the Government of Saskatchewan website.

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