REGINA — People living in northern Saskatchewan can once again move throughout the region freely after weeks of travel bans, but at least one local leader says the division created by the roadblocks will take some time to heal.
The province on Monday lifted the remaining restrictions on non-essential travel that had been imposed because of an outbreak of COVID-19.
The Northern Village of Green Lake, about 300 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, is on the edge of the boreal forest and regularly sees visitors and tourists during the summer.
“We have to look at it as opportunity to evaluate and find some good things coming out of it,” Mayor Ric Richardson said of the travel restriction being lifted.
“It’s created some really negative divisions in Saskatchewan and we have to learn from that.”
Some leaders and First Nations had expressed concerns about provincial control of checkpoints in the region, which they said resulted in some northerners being penalized for driving to get groceries.
Richardson and his partner, Rose, said living with the limits in place provided some assurance that their community was protected against the spread of COVID-19. But, they said, communication with the government could have been better. For one, northwest leaders had requested restrictions be put in place earlier than they were.
Rose Richardson said Indigenous people were discriminated against when they went south for medical treatment.
“The south did not want to treat anybody that came from the north,” she said.
“They were totally rejected as if they were contaminated or something.”
The Dene village of La Loche, about 600 kilometres northwest of Saskatoon, spent weeks dealing with an outbreak of COVID-19 after the novel coronavirus arrived via travel from an oilsands camp in Alberta.
Mayor Robert St. Pierre said Monday only three active cases of the infection remained.
“It feels good to have some of these restrictions lifted and the community getting to some sense of normalcy.”
The province did report two more seniors in the far north had died from COVID-19, bringing the province’s death toll to 13.
Of the 654 total cases, 17 were considered active. Health officials say three of out of the four new cases announced Monday are travel-related.
The federal government also said passengers on two flights into Saskatoon at the end of May from Toronto and Calgary may have been exposed to COVID-19.
Places of worship, personal care services, such as nail salons and tattoo parlours, and gyms were all allowed to reopen in the province Monday. Restaurants and bars opened their doors as well, but at half capacity and with physical distancing between tables.
Child-care centres reopened, but with a maximum of 15 children.
The limit on gatherings also increased to 15 people from 10 indoors and to 30 outside. And the government announced Friday that playgrounds and beaches could reopen, after parents expressed concerns about the lack of options for kids.
Chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab had said this third stage of reopening would be significant. Health officials are to continue to monitor the case count and the spread of the virus before moving ahead with relaxing more rules.
Shahab said gatherings of 20 to 30 people seem to be the sweet spot and that there’s more risk with larger gatherings.
Premier Scott Moe also said he is concerned about the possible transmission of the virus through recent anti-racism protests held in front of the legislature and in Saskatoon following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 8, 2020
Stephanie Taylor, The Canadian Press