Saskatchewan’s top doctor is recommending that now is not the time to have non-essential gatherings.

Dr. Saqib Shahab, the province’s chief medical health officer, said it would be wise for residents to minimize non-essential contacts with significant rising cases of the Omicron variant.

Shahab made the recommendation during a Provincial Emergency Operations Centre technical briefing on Thursday.

He said, while hospitalizations are a concern, businesses of all sizes could find themselves short-staffed as COVID-19 spreads.

“Omicron is less severe, especially if you're fully vaccinated, which is good news, but it still does impact workplaces to a significant extent, and so healthcare is no different from any other sector, and we really need to hunker down,” Shahab explained.

According to Shahab, Saskatchewan is going into a new phase when it comes to COVID-19. Before vaccinations, he said COVID-19 was moderately transmissible and a very severe illness. Once vaccinations became available the transmission was still moderate, but it was mainly a severe illness for the unvaccinated. The Delta variant saw some breakthrough cases, but that was resolved through booster shots, said Shahab.

“We are entering a different phase where COVID is highly transmissible. Omicron is five to eight times more transmissible. I don't like using the term mild. It is less severe, especially in those who are fully vaccinated and boosted. It does reduce, significantly, hospitalizations,” the chief medical health officer said.

Currently, gathering limits is just a recommendation from Shahab, as any public health orders would have to be made by the provincial government.

“From my side, nothing should be off the table, but the government has historically relied on the people of Saskatchewan to actually change behaviour and do the right thing. But again, it will be up to the government to decide whether that is sufficient,” Shahab said.

Saskatchewan is one of the only provinces that does not have gathering limits in place right now.