Saskatchewan residents were on Thursday informed of a plan to start reanimating the province after more than a month in a pandemic-induced state of semi-dormancy.
Premier Scott Moe and Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab revealed the five-phase plan to begin lifting COVID-19 restrictions at a news conference Thursday morning.
It provides a timeline for starting to unwind some of the measures that have brought life and work to a grinding halt for many in the province. The government says testing will be monitored closely to re-evaluate as needed.
The business and recreation plan provides certainty for workers and business owners in some industries, while leaving questions unanswered for others.
On May 19, retail businesses across the province will be allowed to reopen.
Daycare restrictions remain when businesses reopen
Annabel Townsend of Regina signed the lease on the building to open her new business, The Penny University book store and coffee shop, three days before the state of emergency came into effect.
She is pleased to see the province set a date but said restrictions on daycare could further delay the launch of her new business.
Daycare centres are currently limited to a maximum of eight children and schools will remain closed indefinitely.
“It’s a big consideration, particularly for very small businesses, if you are a parent … it restricts you a lot, what you can do,” said Townsend.
“Anyone who is working from home is still struggling to look after kids to keep them entertained and happy and work as well. It’s not like they magically disappear as soon as the businesses start reopening again.”
Townsend has had success selling some of the books she had already bought through online orders, but said the pandemic had “obliterated” her plans for a social space and cafe .
Although the plan allows retail businesses to open on May 19, a date has not been set for restaurants to be able to reopen again.
Townsend said the different timelines further complicates her plans and, given the nature of her store, she may not open right away when the restrictions are lifted.
“I would rather wait and do it properly in the summer rather than rush to open it up … where it’s still not 100 per cent, we’re still doing physical distancing,” adding that she cannot disinfect the paper in her books.
“I think it would be safer for everybody if I just take my time and open up at a later date.”
Hair salons will also be allowed to open on May 19 under the plan.
Hair stylists take precautions
Tyler Maurice, a hair stylist who works out of Perimeters Hair Studio in Regina, has not been able to work since March 23.
He thinks the government’s timelines for reopening make sense based on the number of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.
Although Maurice’s job requires him to stand close to his clients, Maurice said there are ways to reduce the risk.
“Luckily we can wear masks, and we can limit our numbers of people in the salon and we can limit how far apart the clients are,” he said.
“I guess the nice thing is we are both facing the same way so it’s not like there’s face-to-face action which I think could make a difference.”
He thinks some clients will choose not to return as soon as the salons reopen.
“I think there is still a lot of fear out there still so I don’t imagine we are going to be falling off our feet when we come back into work,” he said.
“But I definitely think there is a group of people that are chomping at the bit to get back in to get their hair done.”
Restaurant owners and employees face more uncertainty. Phase three of the plan has them opening at 50 per cent capacity but no date has been set.
Haley Blackmore owns a cafe and catering business called Sprout in Regina. She said it is difficult to know how customers will respond to restaurants being reopened when that does happen, particularly not knowing if case numbers could rise again.
She does expect some people will remain fearful, adding that it will be difficult to know if it would be worth reopening her business at that time.
“If we have to reopen but we can only have 15 customers we’re never going to have the sort of sales that can maintain our business and our costs,” she said.
“Me and my sister own our business together and I don’t want to be at work with the public coming in all the time and putting myself and my sister at risk too. It seems a bit too early for us.”
‘I think people are ready’
Manhattan Casuals co-owner Carol Dyck said she agrees with the province’s timeline for reopening retail stores.
“Obviously the chief medical officer and the premier have put a lot of thought into this and the people working with them and they feel it’s the right day — I feel it’s the right day as well.”
Her clothing store in Saskatoon has switched to an online model and kept its employees on staff. She said the store will follow the list of hygiene regulations put in place by the province.
“I think people will be ready,” said Dyck.
“Even now [with] the nicer weather too, people are ready to get out of their houses and come shopping.”
No specific guidelines for churches
No guidelines for churches were included in the reopening plan released Thursday.
Reverend Brian Maitland, a Minister for the Knox United Church in Saskatoon, said the plan does not change anything for his church at this time.
“Whether [the] group is five people, or 15 people or 25 people the risks are there and I’m not sure that we’re out of the woods yet in terms of minimizing that risk,” said Maitland.
“So I want to be very cautious about gathering again, even in small groups.”
He said he does not think churches need their own category in terms of guidelines because they are subject to the same rules as any other gathering.
Maitland has been communicating with the church congregation through regular emails, phonecalls and videos.
With files from CBC’s Bonnie Allen and Fiona Odlum