Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe announced Thursday that the province will implement mandatory masking, a proof of vaccination policy and a requirement for government employees to get vaccinated or receive negative tests.
Moe made the announcement in a video posted to his social media Thursday morning.
The provincial mask policy, which will apply to all public indoor spaces, begins Friday and Moe said the province has a target of lifting it in late October. The proof of vaccination policy will start Oct. 1 and will apply to establishments, businesses and event venues.
"Unfortunately today we are faced with a fourth wave," Moe said in the video, noting that it is being driven "overwhelmingly" by unvaccinated people.
"We have been very patient — possibly too patient — but the time for patience is over."
He said those who are not vaccinated "are creating consequences for others."
"The vast majority of people in Saskatchewan have done the right thing and have grown tired of the reckless decisions of the unvaccinated that are now driving our fourth wave."
Moe said government employees in ministries, Crowns and agencies will be required to provide proof of vaccination by Oct. 1 or provide consistent negative tests.
Moe and Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab provided an update on the province's COVID-19 response on Thursday afternoon.
Saskatchewan had the highest case rates per capita over a seven-day period as of Thursday, and the second-lowest vaccination rates among provinces.
Alberta, which shares similar high case rates and the lowest vaccination rates in the country, declared a public state of emergency Wednesday and introduced several health policies aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 and increasing vaccinations.
WATCH | Premier Scott Moe defends government's decisions on restrictions amid rising COVID-19 cases
Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said Wednesday the decision this spring to move from a pandemic-to-endemic approach — or learning to live with the virus — seemed like the right thing to do based on data from other jurisdictions with similar vaccination rates.
"It is now clear that we were wrong, and for that I apologize," Kenney said.
Saskatchewan charted a similar path as Alberta, removing restrictions 10 days after its western neighbour.
Asked repeatedly by reporters if he was sorry for how he handled the fourth wave, Moe said the government made the best decisions it could with the information it had at the time.
He did not apologize.
Opposition Leader Ryan Meili said the premier and government "ignored" medical health officers and doctors who called for measures weeks ago.
"This is not leadership. This is a premier who will do anything he can to avoid taking responsibility who only does the right thing when his hand is forced."
Meili called Moe "too proud to change course" and said the premier "put politics ahead of the lives of people."
The government said mandatory indoor masking, which begins Friday, includes all indoor public spaces. Private homes or living spaces are exempt.
Youth participating in sports do not have to wear a mask while they are taking part in their activity.
The mandate will include areas of a business or venues that are restricted to staff only.
"Wearing a mask stops transmission immediately," Shahab said, cautioning people not to go to gatherings without a mask.
He said the impact of masking on hospitalizations will be seen in four to six weeks.
Proof of vaccination
As of Oct. 1, the government will require either proof of vaccination or negative test to access a variety of public places, including:
Indoor dining at restaurants.
Nightclubs, bars, taverns and other licensed establishments.
Event and entertainment venues, including conference centres, casinos, movie theatres, concert venues, live-music venues, museums and indoor facilities hosting ticketed sporting events.
Indoor fitness centres and gyms.
The government will not require proof of vaccination for the following:
Retail businesses, including grocery stores.
Places of worship.
Fast-food restaurants offering takeout and delivery.
Health-care services, professional services or personal services.
Hotels or other lodging.
Facilities hosting non-ticketed amateur sporting events, including youth athletics and recreational leagues.
Business meetings and places of business closed to the general public, unless otherwise directed by the business or employer.
Private gatherings held at an indoor public residence.
Children under the age of 12 are exempt from the proof of vaccination or negative test requirements.
The government said it is developing protocols on proof of negative test requirements.
Government employees vaccine mandate
Starting Oct. 1, all government ministry, Crown and agency employees must be fully vaccinated or provide a negative COVID test on a "consistent basis."
The government said it is "encouraging" other employers, including school divisions, to implement similar policies for staff.
'Things are at a critical juncture'
Shahab said the provincial health system is nearing a point where patients won't have access to hospital beds, whether they're suffering from COVID-19 or a heart attack.
"Things are at a critical juncture," he said.
He also encouraged people to get vaccinated, highlighting the impact on children who cannot be vaccinated. Shahab said 98 per cent of children who have tested positive are in a household with unvaccinated people.
In the last three weeks, COVID-19 hospitalizations and Intensive Care Unit (ICU) admissions have doubled in Saskatchewan and active cases have increased by two and a half times.
"Our system is on the brink right now. Literally no ICU beds in the entire province," said Regina's Dr. Alexander Wong on Wednesday.
On Thursday, Saskatchewan Health Authority CEO Scott Livingstone said 156 health services across the province have been affected by the slowdown to support COVID-19 response.
"We will be tested like we've never been tested before," Livingstone said.
He said without intervention, the province would see 600 cases per day.
Last week, Moe announced mandatory vaccination or proof of a negative test for health-care workers, reintroduced mandatory isolation for positive cases and close contacts who are not vaccinated, and said surgeries and other health procedures would be affected by COVID-19 care needs.
The government has previously declined to introduce a provincial mask mandate or a proof of vaccination policy, though provincial medical health officers called for them on Aug. 26.
Last week, Moe said health measures were a "stop-gap" meant to bridge the province until vaccines were available and the majority of the province was vaccinated.
Moe said he believed getting vaccinated is a choice and that requiring vaccinations was "divisive" and would create "two classes of citizens."
On Monday, the province signed an emergency order to redirect health-care workers.
"If we are in a state of emergency, then we need to act like it," said Tracy Zambory, the president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses (SUN).
"This government is putting the bulk of the pandemic on health-care workers and they have other options that they could look at to reduce these numbers," echoed Sandra Seitz, the president of Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 5430.