REGINA - The government of Saskatchewan is preparing to start easing restrictions Sunday as the first step in its reopening plan.

Saskatchewan chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, speaks at a COVID-19 media update at the Legislative Building in Regina on Wednesday Dec. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Bell

Saskatchewan chief medical health officer, Dr. Saqib Shahab, speaks at a COVID-19 media update at the Legislative Building in Regina on Wednesday Dec. 9, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Bell

REGINA - The government of Saskatchewan is preparing to start easing restrictions Sunday as the first step in its reopening plan.

It comes three weeks after 70 per cent of the province's residents aged 40 and older received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

Beginning Sunday, gathering sizes will increase, restaurants and bars can open with limited capacity, and group fitness classes can resume.

Officials also announced that they will be relaxing restrictions on outdoor sports during the first step.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe speaks at a press conference at the Legislative Building in Regina, Thursday, March 25, 2021. The government of Saskatchewan is preparing to start easing restrictions Sunday as part of its reopening roadmap. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Bell

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe speaks at a press conference at the Legislative Building in Regina, Thursday, March 25, 2021. The government of Saskatchewan is preparing to start easing restrictions Sunday as part of its reopening roadmap. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Michael Bell

That was not originally included, but the province made the decision to move it forward in the reopening plan.

"Outdoor sports are safe," Premier Scott Moe said Tuesday. "Safer, certainly, than indoors. (And) our children and youth … have really sacrificed a lot throughout this pandemic.

"They haven't had the opportunity for going into the second year now to play competitive sports, whether that be softball, soccer, football — whatever that might be."

The province has also reached the vaccination threshold for its second step of reopening — more than 70 per cent of Saskatchewan residents 30 and older have received their first COVID-19 vaccine.

As a result, the next phase of easing restrictions is to begin June 20.

Moe urged people to get a COVID-19 vaccine during his Tuesday afternoon news conference.

"We're not asking you to storm the beaches of Normandy," he said. "All we're asking you to do is go in and get a tiny needle in your arm."

Moe had particularly sharp words for people who may be encouraging others not to get vaccinated under "some misguided notion of defending your personal freedoms."

He said he hates imposing the restrictions.

"There is this bizarre misconception that politicians like myself and others, we love imposing these restrictions on others and the general population," he said. "And I can tell you today, nothing — nothing — could be further from the truth. I hate it. I hate it. And I look forward to the day that it all ends, but that day can only come when enough of us are vaccinated.

"So if you really want all your freedoms back, go get in line and get vaccinated," added Moe.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2021.

— By Julia Peterson in Saskatoon