Saskatchewan to start managing Omicron variant like other common respiratory viruses

REGINA – Saskatchewan is revising its public health orders as it moves to treating the COVID-19 Omicron variant like other common respiratory viruses such as influenza.

StartingFriday,close contacts of people who test positive will not be required to self-isolate.

Chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, said Omicron is so transmissible that many people who have been able to dodge COVID-19 will get exposed.

“So many of us, on any given time, are notified as a close contact and it’s really not feasible for us to isolate every time we’re a close contact,” he said Thursday.

Shahab said the change will help children stay in school and workplaces to remain staffed.

Anyone who is infected, immunized or not, will still need to self-isolate for five days. That eases an isolation requirement of 10 days for the unvaccinated.

“For most people that five-day (isolation) is sufficient to become non-infectious, and continue to restart work and school in a safe manner,” Shahab said.

Most cases of Omicron are proving to be mild and a self-limited illness, he said. That means the virus is going away on its own without treatment about five to seven days after infecting someone.

Parents and caregivers will no longer be required to report positive cases to schools, but students will be expected to stay home for their entire isolation period.

Premier Scott Moe said earlier this week that society needs to learn to live with COVID-19, while maintaining public health and health-care capacity. British Columbia announced a similar shift last week.

Shahab said science shows Omicron is behaving “more similar to how influenza behaves when there’s a poor vaccine match.”

“We know that while the vaccine is still very effective for most people in preventing hospitalizations, there is still some loss of efficacy due to the Omicron variant,” he added.

“That’s why booster shots are important (as is) access to therapeutics” such as Pfizer’s antiviral pill Paxlovid, he said.

The Saskatchewan Party government has said people being vaccinated, including booster shots, will be key to managing the pandemic in the coming months.

Saskatchewan’s other public health orders are to remain in place until the end of February. They include a mask mandate and proof of vaccination or negative test to enter most establishments.

Health Minister Paul Merriman said the government is still weighing the risks of COVID-19 and what measures are needed to reduce serious illness or hospitalizations.

The government is reviewing data from other provinces to help inform its decision, he said.

“Omicron is continually evolving,” said Merriman. “We’ll evolve a government to make sure any public health regulations or guidelines … (meet) the needs of what Omicron is putting in front of us.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2022.


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