Regina– New Democratic Party Leader Ryan Meili says we are now dealing with the results of not implementing a COVID-19 “circuit breaker” in November, and that the province has not taken full advantage of federal relief funds. Also, at the tail end of a seniors vaccination blitz that, as a doctor, he took part in delivering, Meili received his first dose of one of the vaccines. That blitz led him to suggest the province improve its delivery mechanisms and logistics.
Speaking to reporters in the Legislature on Jan. 26, Meili said, “We saw another 14 people lose their lives in the last 24 hours 46 in the last week, is it a lot of people, a lot of families who are mourning, and it's really frustrating that to note that this was avoidable. If we had gone through the circuit breaker back in the fall, had taken action early, we could have avoided these deaths. And yet here we are today, still leading the country in the rate of active cases, over 10 per cent positivity test rate, low testing compared to what we should be doing, and outbreaks and long term care.”
Regarding the extension of public health restrictions, Meili repeated his assertion that Saskatchewan should have done a “circuit breaker” in November, when cases were spiking in Manitoba and North Dakota.
“This is what we said would happen; that if we didn't do that, we would be seeing months and months of restrictions. It's much more costly to the economy, and over 250 people have died. So, we missed that window. But now, what can we do? We need to make sure that the health measures are the right measures. We've seen no action to protect against long-term care outbreaks, to reduce the density of residents in four-bed rooms in long-term care. And we've still got people going to bars. That's not the case anywhere else in Western Canada. But here, people are still going to bars, despite knowing that those are common sources of super-spreader events. It's happened in Saskatchewan, and it's happened around the world.”
Pointing to a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report, Meili said Premier Scott Moe had left $150 million in federal money “on the table.”
Meili said, “That was for childcare, so important in recovering our economy; for wage top-ups for essential frontline health care workers. And over $30 million that was dedicated to preventing the kind of outbreaks we're seeing in long term care today.
“Now is not the time to be cheap with Saskatchewan people. And unfortunately, that's what Scott Moe is doing. Now is the time for us to invest. And that's why I'm calling on the premier, today, to acknowledge the seriousness of the problem. Things are not going well, when it comes to COVID-19. We're at great risk that the upcoming COVID-19 variant, of things getting worse before the vaccine arrives. We are in a race, between the vaccine and the virus. Only public health measures will help us win that race; and to come clean about where every single federal dollar has gone, and commit to making sure that all of those dollars go out to protect and support Saskatchewan people in this difficult time.”
He added, “This government is using this to backfill their own financial mismanagement, their own fiscal failures. They're using this dollar these dollars to try to cover up the fact that they've allowed budget deficits to grow instead of doing what they should do, which is investing in Saskatchewan people at a time when we really need.”
On the same day, Manitoba ordered most interprovincial travellers to quarantine for 14 days. Meili said interprovincial travel restrictions should be looked at in Saskatchewan. He said, “Especially as we're thinking about a new deadly or more contagious variant, we have to think about what's happening in our borders.”
Meili, as a physician, has been taking part in providing the vaccine blitz at a seniors home a little over a week ago. Asked about that, and the shortage of additional doses this week, Meili said, “I do know that it has been chaotic in terms of the communication and the delivery of the vaccine so far. It's very disappointing we don't have more vaccine to deliver right now.
“I hope the government will take this time to better prepare the delivery mechanisms and logistics and give a clearer message, so that we don't have so many people out there saying, ‘I'm a health care worker, but I don't see where I am on the list.’ ‘I'm a senior, I don't see where I am on the list.’ So people really know when they're going to be getting that vaccine.”
He added, “Lots of vaccine got out, which was great to see. I was really delightful to be able to be part of that experience, to give the hope to the seniors who are coming and to hear their stories. And it reminded me how important the lives of seniors are. We often hear people saying, ‘Oh, it's only the elderly that die from this.’
“Well, so what? Those elderly people are really important. Seniors are really important. And they have important stories to tell, and their lives matter. So that was really exciting to be a part of. In that particular vaccine blitz, we had excess doses, and they were going to be thrown away. So, while I had earlier refused a request, or an offer to be vaccinated, those staff members, including myself, who were unvaccinated did get the vaccine that day.”
He concluded, “My big message is, if you get a chance, if you get a call from the (Saskatchewan Health Authority), go get the vaccine. It's really important. And we're part of a phenomenal moment in human history. Many downsides, but what an incredible thing, to see a new disease and now have a vaccine for it only a year later.”
Brian Zinchuk, Local Journalism Initiative reporter, Estevan Mercury