Nova Scotia has declared a public state of emergency as people ignored government warnings to limit gatherings and practice social distancing.
At a press briefing on Sunday, Premier Stephen McNeil said people are continuing to gather in large numbers at beaches and parks, which he says is not acceptable and can be harmful.
“We need to minimize and slow down the introduction and spread of COVID-19 in the province. It’s critical. It’s how we keep people safe and minimize the impact on our healthcare system,” said Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia’s chief medical officer of health.
Strang also announced seven new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total number of people diagnosed with the disease to 28.
He said the cases are all travel-related or were caused by close contacts of with previously announced cases. However, he expects a community spread would occur at some point.
Individuals afflicted with COVID-19 in the province now range in age from late-teens to mid-70’s.
Justice minister Mark Furey said they’re taking immediate action under the Health Protection Act to allow police to enforce orders related to self-isolation and social distancing.
He also said fines can be $1,000 for each day an individual breaches the law and does not adhere to social distancing or self-isolation.
The fine for businesses is $7,500, with increased costs on a daily basis.
“You can be fined on multiple days if you fail to comply with the law,” Furey adds.
Police can also enforce offences under the Emergency Management Act. For example, fines for charging higher than fair market prices for goods and services.
Moreover, effective Monday morning, anyone travelling into the province from another Canadian province must also self-isolate. An exception will be made for those bringing critical supplies or service to Nova Scotia.
Strang said if individuals haven’t travelled and are adhering to social distancing, then they can go for a walk, but “don’t pile into a car and crowd onto a beach or a park.”
However, the province said there are several groups who are essential and exempt from gathering limits. They include but are not limited to grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies.
“If possible, one person per family should be designated to do these tasks,” the province stated.
Other groups who are essential include construction sites, health-care services, community services, criminal justice services and law enforcement.
The province has also announced new orders, which are now in effect under the Health Protection Act.
Effective immediately, social gatherings of more than five people are prohibited, said the government.
Moreover, any workplace or business that is not deemed essential can remain open as long as a two-metre or six-foot distance can be maintained.
Workspaces must also be cleaned and disinfected at a minimum of twice daily or as required and employees follow proper hygiene.
As of March 21, dentists can no longer practice dentistry in their offices “unless they deem it necessary to perform an emergency dental procedure in the best interest of the patient’s health.”
“Everyone is at some risk, but we all have people who are at the highest risk of getting sick. We all have healthcare workers who continue put themselves at risk to treat people with this disease,” said Strang.
“So we all need to work together to protect those most vulnerable in our system and protect our healthcare workers. I can’t stress this enough.”
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
Health officials say the risk is low for Canadians but warn this could change quickly. They caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are asked to self-isolate for 14 days in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others.
Symptoms can include fever, cough and difficulty breathing — very similar to a cold or flu. Some people can develop a more severe illness. People most at risk of this include older adults and people with severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease. If you develop symptoms, contact public health authorities.
To prevent the virus from spreading, experts recommend frequent handwashing and coughing into your sleeve. And if you get sick, stay at home.
For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.
–With files from Alexander Quon