The Saskatchewan government has increased restrictions and funding for northern communities in the wake of a COVID-19 outbreak in La Loche.
In the daily provincial address on April 30, Saskatchewan's Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab announced a public health order expanding the travel restriction within the Northern Saskatchewan Administrative District.
Residents are now being ordered to stay in their own communities to try to limit the spread of the virus. Travel bans into the district will continue, especially to the northwest as northern leaders try to address the 37 active cases that are putting pressure on the community's health system. The north east communities of La Ronge and Stoney Rapids have been exempt from the travel ban but the exemption only allows travel to and from those communities without stopping in other communities along the way.
Travel related to essential services will still be allowed based on the Critical Public Services to Address COVID-19 and Allowable Business Services list released by the Saskatchewan government at the beginning of April.
“Our government recognizes the unique challenges that northern communities are facing in fighting the spread of COVID-19,” Premier Scott Moe said in a press release. “We are providing direct supports to northern communities and businesses to ensure the necessary resources are available, while imposing further restrictions to ensure the necessary steps are being taken to reduce the spread and flatten the curve in the north.”
According to La Loche’s Emergency Operations Centre Facebook page, NVLL & CRND Covid-19 Updates, 47 cases have been confirmed in La Loche and five in Clearwater River Dene Nation and approximately 15 people have recovered.
Dr. Rim Zayed, medical health officer of the SHA’s Northern Population Health Unit, was quoted in the post saying they are expecting even more cases.
“We want to delay transmission through physical isolation, banning travel and increased testing. We want to start aggressive testing. We will use our local testing machine for presumptive confirmation and fly results to Regina for confirmation. This is much faster,” said Dr. Zayed.
Chief Teddy Clarke of the Clearwater River Dene Nation also was quoted in the post saying they are always hoping for a positive message but the region isn’t there yet. People need to continue to social distance and being diligent about containing the spread.
“We echo the same message every day, practice social distancing. Heard about a large party up north last night. Mass gatherings are not good. It only takes one person to spread the virus. We all have to be doing our part.”
The province also announced additional funding for combating COVID-19 in northern communities with $350,000 going directly to New North, the province’s northern communities association, and $20,000 going directly to La Loche.
“Funding will help establish, staff and maintain community checkpoints as part of a recent public health order to address COVID-19 in the province’s far north,” said the press release.
The government also announced that the Saskatchewan Small Business Emergency Payment (SSBEP) program has been amended to include northern outfitter and businesses operating in provincial parks. The Ministry of Environment has also waived the lease fees for 2020.