Saskatchewan has declared a state of emergency.
This comes on the heels of confirmation of eight new cases of presumptive coronavirus in the province bringing the total to 16.
A number of measures are now effective immediately.
Gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited and restaurants, bars and event venues must limit their capacity by 50 percent or to a maximum of 50 people – whichever is less.
A distance of one to two metres must be maintained between patrons.
All gyms, fitness centres, casinos and bingo halls must close until further notice.
Parents with children in daycares should be preparing for further restrictions.
A sombre Premier Scott Moe addressed media at the Saskatchewan Legislature Wednesday afternoon.
“If we are not able to flatten the curve, if we don’t take these social distancing measures seriously, there is no health system in the world that will be able to manage what will occur,” he said. “It is incumbent on us in this province to do our level best to ensure we are able to flatten that curve and that our health system is able to handle what is going to happen over the next number of weeks and the next number of months.”
One of the new cases appears to have contracted the virus within the province.
The other seven had recent out-of-province travel including Tennessee, Oregon, Nevada, Mexico, Edmonton and Vancouver.
“I have heard some antidotal reports of people who have returned home from abroad, who were out in the community the very same day,” Premier Moe said. “And we just simply can’t do that. We need to self-isolate. And I know that you may be saying that, ‘I’m just fine,’ but you may be endangering the health and the lives of others.”
Retail spaces including grocery stores, pharmacies and gas stations are exempted from restrictions but they must ensure they have processes in place to maintain the distance of one to two metres between customers.
Out-of-province travel that is non-essential continues to be not recommended.
Crown utilities will implement zero-interest bill deferral programs for up to six months to help residents affected by COVID-19 restrictions.
Beginning Monday, all government ministries, agencies and Crown corporations will phase in work from home policies allowing all non-essential employees this option.
Also beginning Monday, the Saskatchewan Health Authority will be cancelling all non-urgent surgeries, procedures and diagnostics.
The health authority says this will free up staff and ensure medical supplies and protective equipment is available where needed.