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Saskatchewan residents share mix of fear, hope as province lifts COVID-19 measures

REGINA — Colin Hall's business was one of the first in Saskatchewan to require customers to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination last summer.

REGINA — Colin Hall's business was one of the first in Saskatchewan to require customers to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination last summer.

The co-owner of Bodhi Tree Yoga in Regina said he wanted to keep his customers safe and he knew governments, including Saskatchewan, would soon follow with their own policies.

But come Monday, when the province lifts its vaccination passport, so will Hall. 

"Even though we did not face any legal action at all, (Premier Scott Moe) made sure he said it loud and clear: any businesses who choose to continue enforcing a vaccine passport should consult their lawyer," Hall said Wednesday. 

Moe made the comment Tuesday during a COVID-19 briefing when he announced that regulations that allow businesses to check for vaccinations will come to an end.

"It's the goal that no one ... is required to provide a health record to gain entry into that building," Moe said.

"That's to create a unified access to schools, businesses and our communities for all Saskatchewan residents."

Moe's announcement, including that an indoor mask mandate will lift at the end of February, has been met with mixed reactions.

The Federation of Sovereign Indigenous Nations and some band councils asked the government to reconsider.

"It is premature for the province to end all restrictions, as our First Nations vaccination rates are much lower than the provincial rates, and an end to all restrictions will create pressure to the community front-line workers and community resources," Yorkton Tribal Council Chief Isabel O'Soup said in a statement.

Others, like Hall, accept the government's decision after two years of the pandemic.

"We can write petitions and complain on Twitter all we like, but that won't change where we're at," Hall said. 

"We've got enough on our plate. We just can't handle any more drama or any more problems," he said. "If someone told me in March 2020 we'd be dealing with the same thing in March 2022, I don't think I would have stuck around. I would have said, 'No thanks. I'm getting a regular job.'"

The province says it hasn't ruled out bringing back public health orders should hospitals become strained. 

"We're always in a posture where we're having to adapt," said Jim Bence, president of the Saskatchewan Hotel and Hospitality Association. 

Last September, Saskatchewan reintroduced COVID-19 measures after removing its public health orders in July. That led to the province's deadliest wave of the pandemic in the face of the Delta variant and low vaccination rates.

This time feels different, said Bence, especially because of the Omicron variant.

"We have a way deeper respect for COVID, but we're not as fearful as we were in the past," he said.

"We're going to make hay with sunshine. And while the sun is shining, we are going to make a ton of cake."

Shawn Davidson, president of the Saskatchewan School Boards Association, said divisions will continue to work with medical health officers should mask mandates be required in specific circumstances. 

Grade 11 student Mercedes Phillips, who attends Campbell Collegiate in Regina, said she's not OK with lifted restrictions, including a mask mandate for schools and public places. 

"I'm quite scared," Phillips said. 

"Now that everything's being lifted, I could definitely see more students getting sick, more staff getting sick and that's just going to put us back in a position where we were weeks ago, at the peak of the Omicron variant."

Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, said Tuesday the Omicron wave has already passed through most workplaces and schools, and Saskatchewan is on the right trajectory to lift health orders. 

While restrictions will soon be gone, the pandemic-related stress remains, said Hall.

"I don't want to be overly dramatic, but it's been horrible. It has aged me. I am not as nice as I was. I'm not as patient as I was. And I'm not as kind as I was," he said.

"It really has done a number on my mental health."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 9, 2022. 

Mickey Djuric, The Canadian Press

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