Vancouver mayor says fines, penalties coming to enforce coronavirus measures

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Vancouver’s mayor says fines, business closures and other penalties could be on the way to enforce social distancing measures amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Kennedy Stewart said council will meet virtually Monday to vote on an amendment to the city’s emergency powers bylaw that would allow bylaw officers to issue penalties to anyone either gathering in large groups or not doing what they can to keep two metres apart.

READ MORE: Metro Vancouver cities close outdoor sports areas as youth defy coronavirus measures

“The time of asking nicely is coming to an end,” Stewart told reporters Sunday.

“While many residents have responsibly kept two metres away from others in public, too many people still think the rules do not apply to them. … Our message is clear: Shut down, Stay put, Save lives.”

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City manager Sadhu Johnston said the fines, which could reach as high as $50,000, are meant for businesses, not individuals. He said city staff are “looking at” fines for people who continue to gather in large groups, however.

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B.C. health officials have ordered people to limit gatherings to 50 people and for everyone to stay at least two metres apart, and has called on businesses to shift their operations or close altogether to meet that goal.

Earlier Sunday, the Vancouver Park Board closed parking lots for the city’s most popular parks and beaches, along with all outdoor sports areas across Vancouver. The parks themselves remain open to the public.

The city has already closed community centres, indoor sports facilities, libraries and playgrounds, and has ordered bars and restaurants to cease dine-in operations and shift to takeout and delivery only. Patios must also close, the city reminded.

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READ MORE: Yes, patios must also close under coronavirus measures: City of Vancouver

Stewart said the past weekend was a stark reminder of how many people were still not getting the message from government and health officials.

“This weekend, I saw reports of people hosting house parties, having group picnics on the beach, playing soccer, playing beer pong,” the mayor said, exasperated. “Beer pong.

“This isn’t a game. People are dying.”

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City bylaw officers visited roughly 600 bars and restaurants Saturday to ensure they were following the order to remove their seating, which was issued by the city and province Friday.

Johnston said 13 businesses were issued warnings for non-compliance. A city spokesperson told Global News that most of those businesses were unaware the order also applied to outdoor patios.

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Stewart said the amendment being voted on Monday would allow staff to fine and penalize any business that does not enforce social distancing guidelines. Penalties would include a forced closure if necessary.

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The mayor said council would also debate approving an additional emergency power that would require any non-essential worker to stay home. He said if approved, it would not be enforced right away, but rather held onto “just in case.”

Vancouver Fire Chief Darryl Reid, who is leading the city’s COVID-19 task force, urged all residents to follow the rules and think about their neighbours to avoid forcing the city to issue fines and penalties.

““These extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures,” he said.

“We are seeing people around the world die because of the spread of COVID-19. The only way we can stop this from happening in Vancouver is with the support and collaboration of our residents. We need to work together to keep ourselves, our loved ones and our neighbours safe.”

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