Meili: Fix testing now to fight COVID-19 variants

SASKATOON - Official Opposition Leader Ryan Meili called on the government today to take serious action to detect and prevent the spread of the new variants of COVID-19, which are considerably more contagious and have rocked pandemic responses around the globe. On Tuesday, Saskatchewan recorded its first two confirmed cases of the UK variant in Regina.

“We are in a race between vaccines and variants,” said Meili. “People are tired of this virus - pandemic fatigue is real. But so is the risk. COVID-19 has shown that the minute we let our guard down, it will attack without mercy. If action isn’t taken swiftly, we will have no choice but to continue with or potentially increase public health restrictions for many months to come - and endure even more record fatalities.”

Meili noted the Sask. Party’s inability to plan and prepare for the pandemic is leaving Saskatchewan ill-equipped to manage the escalating risks from COVID-19 variants. There is ongoing confusion about vaccine sequencing and timing. And despite repeated calls from New Democrats and public health experts to expand testing and tracing capacity during the summer, this government chose not to prepare for the second wave. 

Reports today indicate Saskatchewan has both the equipment and capacity to be doing in-province COVID-19 variant sequencing, but is currently sending samples to Winnipeg because they don’t have enough staff. This should come as no surprise to the Sask. Party, which has ignored reports of short-staffing and supply issues of Medical Laboratory Technologists since 2016, and presided over a declining number of MLTs since 2014.  

“Because Scott Moe chose to ignore long-standing health sector staffing issues means Saskatchewan has to ship samples out of province and face processing delays while valuable equipment collects dust,” said Meili. “This leaves us vulnerable to these dangerous and more transmissible variants.”

Meili called for a comprehensive action to fight COVID-19 variants that includes:

  • Use a portion of the province’s untouched $260 million “contingency fund” to staff up laboratory services and testing and tracing

  • Proactive rapid testing in schools, long-term care facilities, high-risk communities, and workplaces where social distancing measures are difficult to implement

  • Strengthened case management and contact tracing

  • A clear vaccine sequencing plan and schedule to end the confusion about where people are in the queue, and how they will find out when it is their turn to be vaccinated

“January was the deadliest month on record, but we have still had several days where less than 2,000 COVID-19 tests have been performed,” said Meili. “Our front-line staff are doing their best, but preventing the spread of these more contagious variants means we need much more proactive testing in all at-risk areas.”