Shahab says protest raises health concerns

Premier Moe says he supports protesters' aims

June 3, 2020, 4:48 pm


With the recent rally in Regina and those planned for other Saskatchewan communities, Saskatchewan’s Chief Medical Health Officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab is warning that these types of large public gatherings dramatically increase the risk of COVID transmission and put people at risk.

"While Saskatchewan’s number of confirmed positive COVID-19 cases is low, it is critically important to understand that as many as 40 per cent of persons who are capable of being infectious with COVID 19 may have no or very mild symptoms," Shahab said.

"People attending large public rallies are putting themselves and others at increased risk of infection. Not knowing who they may have been in contact with will make contact tracing and public health follow up difficult. As a result, individuals may not have timely warning of potential exposure by public health.

"This in turn will put members of extended household contacts at risk. Several outbreaks, both large and small, have been linked to large gatherings here in Saskatchewan and around the world. Any gathering with more than 10 people outdoors are in violation of the current Public Health Order.

"On June 8, the allowed size limit for outdoor gatherings will be raised to 30. Regardless of the gathering size, two metres of separation is to be maintained at all times."

Shahab suggested that rallies would be better done in vehicles than with crowds of people.

"Organizers are encouraged to have gatherings done in vehicles," he said. "If groups are wanting to congregate or march on foot, they are advised to keep a distance of two metres or more between each person at all times. Groups are encouraged to treat marching and protesting as though they are visiting a large urban park where 100s of people may be at any given time across a wide space, but promote safety by maintaining the two metres or more of physical distancing.

"Mask use and frequent hand hygiene is encouraged. Items must not be shared or passed back and forth among participants. In situations where singing or chanting is happening it is recommended that the physical distancing be expanded beyond the recommended two metres as this behaviour expels the virus at a greater velocity and distance. Consider using signs or banners instead."

Organizers of any protests or rallies are encouraged to contact local public health offices for guidance.

"The risks and public health violations apply to all large gatherings," said Shahab. "While peaceful public protests are a part of our democracy, please be aware of the elevated risk to yourself and your loved ones, particularly those in your extended household who may be more vulnerable."

Premier Scott Moe, meanwhile said there is no place for racism in Saskatchewan as the protest took place outside the legislature.

“There is no place for racism in this province and we will continue to work with whomever we can to get that message out and to reaffirm to people,” said Moe. “They have the support of virtually everyone, including myself, in addressing what is a societal challenge not just in Saskatchewan but across North America.”

“I have all the respect in the world for them as individuals for communicating the message that racism is not alright and black lives do matter,” he added.

The protest featured speakers which included many community leaders and activists along with Speaker of the Legislature Mark Docherty and NDP deputy leader Nicole Sarauer.

The rally comes on the heels of civil unrest in the U.S. Riots have erupted in cities across the country over the case of George Floyd, who died in police custody during an arrest on May 25 which was caught on video.

The video shows three officers, one with his knee planted on Floyd’s neck as he pleads for the officers to stop. Floyd was initially arrested for allegedly using a fake $20 at a local convenience store.

Derek Chauvin, the officer who is seen in the video with his knee on Floyd’s neck was arrested on May 29 and charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. Following protests around the world, the other three officers in the video have now also been charged.