Bye bye masks and staying away in Saskatchewan. The province lifted all COVID-19-related health orders and restrictions July 11, well ahead of Manitoba’s anticipated date to do the same.
Saskatchewan’s recent lifting of all COVID-19 restrictions has been complicated for Flin Flon. For about 5,000 people living in Flin Flon, Manitoba, restrictions are still in place - but for residents in Creighton, Denare Beach and around 200 people and a handful of businesses in Flin Flon, Sask., government mandates are gone.
As of July 11 in Saskatchewan, mask mandates, limits on public and private gatherings, travel within the province and other restrictions are all gone. Businesses and communities are still be able to have their own rules regarding masking or distancing.
When asked during the June 23 meeting of Creighton town council, Creighton Mayor Bruce Fidler said he was pleased the rules were changing, but warned people from doing too much too soon and possibly sparking more COVID-19 cases. Fidler said that the Town’s Canada Day celebrations - one of Creighton’s biggest annual events, which was held online only this year - has not been rescheduled for later this summer after restrictions are lifted, but discussions could take place later in the summer.
“I’m glad to see that numbers are coming down and the vaccines are obviously working. It’s good to see that and it's good to see some other restrictions opening up,” he said.
“I think there still has to be some hesitancy put forward in lifting all restrictions. It’s going to have to be reviewed and watched very closely, I believe. I think we all have to be very careful about it.”
Fidler also said he anticipated no border-based issues from the rule change.
“We’ve dealt with it for the last year and a half now and you know, there are differences but being the border communities, we’ve dealt with them. Honestly, I can’t see it causing any more grief than it already has,” he said.
Within Flin Flon, the change means a split in the community - mask mandates for all indoor spaces are still in place for all places north of the border, but not for the area south.
Cal Huntley, Flin Flon’s mayor, said at the July 6 city council meeting that both portions of the community are subject to the rules of the province they are located in and rules for the Saskatchewan side of Flin Flon (where restrictions are looser) will not be changed to match those for the rest of town.
“The citizens in Saskatchewan, as they’ve been through the whole pandemic, are governed by the Saskatchewan rules and all the Manitoba people are governed by the Manitoba rules,” said Huntley.
“The only thing that changes for us, being a border community is that we treat ourselves as a region so the travel restrictions, because of Creighton and Denare Beach, that were previously in place [for residents] didn't apply for people who worked here or shopped here.”
Other border communities in Canada have picked one province’s set of rules and stayed consistent with them, including Lloydminster - both the Alberta and Saskatchewan sides of that community, according to Huntley, follow the Saskatchewan rules.
“We felt that was the best way to go - maybe not necessarily the most popular way, but the best and consistent way to go was to follow the provincial guidelines,” Huntley said.
“It makes it difficult and it magnifies the concerns or inconsistencies and criticisms that have been focused with regard to how the pandemic was managed in Saskatchewan and how it was managed in Manitoba. We’re in a place where that becomes very obvious.”
“All we can do, from a City perspective, is abide for the rules that are in effect for both provinces and both segments of our community.”
As of July 12, Manitoba is only slated to lift all COVID-19-related restrictions around Labour Day weekend in September.
The change has not meant all businesses or public spaces will allow maskless gatherings of any size. Some businesses, including Super K Convenience - located in Saskatchewan, about 50 metres over the provincial border - have opted to keep mandating masks while on the premises. Eddie’s Family Foods, where the store’s main entrance is 30 metres over the border and where a side parking lot straddles the border, has taken a different tack, making masks optional for employees and customers but keeping distancing markers on the store floor.
The different restrictions have also meant no change for the checkpoint at the entrance of the Amisk Lake reserve in Denare Beach. The reserve, which is administered by Peter Ballantyne Cree Nation (PBCN), is still guarded by a staffed checkpoint on the only street leading into it as of July 11. As of late last month, PBCN was still restricting travel into all communities within the nation, disallowing all travellers from possible COVID-19 outbreak zones unless they were fully vaccinated.
For Flin Flon, Mayor Huntley said the easiest way to shut down restrictions is to continue to get vaccinated - somewhere he feels is showing promise.
“The more people who get vaccinated, the quicker we [Manitoba] get to where Saskatchewan is at,” Huntley said.