REGINA — Saskatchewan is recommending anyone who has recently travelled outside the province should get tested twice for COVID-19 in an effort to prevent the arrival of more contagious strains of the virus.
Throughout the pandemic, Premier Scott Moe has rejected bringing in provincial travel restrictions, such as ones in Manitoba and Atlantic Canada, which require people entering their boundaries to quarantine for 14 days.
Moe says he knows that despite a warning from health officials against non-essential travel, some residents have left Saskatchewan this week as students are on a break.
On the advice of his chief medical health officer, Moe's Saskatchewan Party government is urginginterprovincial travellers to get tested upon their return and to plan for a followup test seven days later.
Officials say that's the best window to catch any virus and follows similar measures in Alberta and Manitoba. International travellers have to follow federal quarantine and testing measures.
"The risk has changed," Moe said Thursday after touring a mass vaccination clinic being set up in Regina. "The risk now is that you might not only contract COVID, you may contract one of the new variants."
Health officials have already discovered the strain first identified in the United Kingdom. Experts believe the variant to be more contagious and possibly able to cause more severe illness.
The Ministry of Health said the cases in Regina and Saskatoon were travel-related and there doesn't appear to have been any spread into the community.
Moe said health officials hope to prevent more variant cases from entering the province, but the new testing urged for travellers is a recommendation and not mandatory.
He said he isn't ruling out a future two-week quarantine for people coming into the province. Currently, those reporting symptoms when they get tested need to self-isolate until they receive their results, but anyone who is asymptomatic does not.
"That may be a consideration at some point," said Moe.
Health officials reported another 146 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday. There were 174 people in hospital and 23 in intensive care.
So far, about 50,000 doses of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines have been administered to residents and workers in long-term care homes, people 70 and older and health-care staff working directly with COVID-19 patients.
More than 300,000 shots are still needed to finish immunizing those who fall under the first phase of the province's vaccination plan. The general public will then gets its turn, starting with people between 60 and 69.
Moe said he hopes that will start in April and pointed to the vaccine clinic as proof his province has done its work.
"We're most certainly ready when the vaccines arrive."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 18, 2021