B.C. ramps up COVID-19 enforcement measures following most fatal weekend

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      Although B.C. has begun its COVID-19 immunization program, British Columbians will need to continue on with health measures for many more months ahead, particularly as the province is continuing its efforts to reduce high case numbers and transmissions.

      The first vaccinations began in the province yesterday (December 15), starting with healthcare workers before expanding to other frontline workers and vulnerable populations in the coming months.

      However, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has previously explained that vaccinations won’t have any impact upon transmission levels for the first few months. In addition, immunization for British Columbians who aren’t part of vulnerable populations won’t begin for several months.

      What’s more, B.C. experienced its most fatal weekend this past week when 49 deaths were reported from December 11 to 14.

      Consequently, the province is boosting its enforcement measures.

      At a news conference on December 15, Premier John Horgan said that B.C. has been more successful than its neighbours in reducing case numbers. He pointed out that Alberta had 7,000 more cases than B.C. over the past week.

      Nonetheless, he said that B.C.’s case numbers remain “unacceptably high”.

      Although both Horgan and Henry have said that the province has flattened its curve, Henry had pointed out at a briefing earlier this week that, despite reductions in specific areas, overall numbers have not yet decreased.

      In addition, she had mentioned that they are continuing to see parties and gatherings in the B.C. Interior, which remains a problem.

      Yesterday, Interior Health announced that a community cluster involving at least 60 cases has developed at Big White Ski Resort in Kelowna, linked to “shared housing”, “large households, and social gatherings”.

      At yesterday’s news conference Horgan reminded everyone that preventative health measures need to be continued, as the province continues to attempt to lower case numbers and transmission rates.

      “Right now, we all need to mask up in indoor public spaces and not gather with anyone outside our household, and today's expanded enforcement measures will help us change behaviours and bend the curve of infections back down,” Horgan said.

      B.C. announced that it will expand ticket enforcement and workplace safety measures.

      B.C. Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth
      Province of British Columbia

      B.C. Public Safety Minister and Solicitor General Mike Farnworth is directing ICBC, which collects ticket fines for the provincial government, to eliminate its reminder period (of up to a year before the overdue account is sent to collections) and instead send unpaid files directly to collections when the initial 30-day payment or dispute period ends, or an offender is found guilty in court.

      In addition, the Province is asking WorkSafeBC to reduce virtual checks for workplaces inspections and instead conduct more inspections in person, particularly for sectors where transmission is occurring.

      Labour Minister Harry Bains said this shift will help to prevent future outbreaks.

      Furthermore, Farnworth has asked gaming investigators, conservation officers, community safety unit inspectors, and liquor and cannabis inspectors to actively support police and increase COVID-19 enforcement during their duties or when in public places.

      "Provincial enforcement officers can already issue violation tickets, but we want to increase the use of the tools available to them,” Farnworth said in a news release. “This will put more boots on the ground to actively enforce Emergency Program Act orders and better ensure we can penalize those who insist on putting their own selfishness above public health.”

      From August 21 to December 14, officers have issued a total of 290 violation tickets, including:

      • 45 fines of $2,300 to owners or organizers for gatherings and events;
      • 21 tickets of $2,300 for violating food and liquor health orders for premises;
      • 224 fines of $230 to individuals who refused to comply with direction from law enforcement.

      In addition, police have also issued 72 tickets to individuals who violated the Federal Quarantine Act, for a total of $78,500 in fines since the start of the pandemic.

      For particularly egregious contraventions or repeat offenders, police can recommend charges and courts can impose additional penalties, including fines and jail time.

      Anyone who is seeking to report non-emergency contraventions of mask or gathering orders is asked to contact local government bylaw offices. Those who are unable to reach a local bylaw office can contact the non-emergency line of local police departments. If someone becomes threatening or abusive in response to requests to wear a mask, police should be called.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at @cinecraig or on Facebook.