Halifax police want to work with people to curb coronavirus spread

Halifax police
Police say a man entered the store, demanded money and assaulted the clerk. Global News

Halifax Regional Police say they are using a “velvet glove” approach to get people to abide by social distancing directives set out by public health officials to try and halt the spread of the novel coronavirus.

That means police aren’t using a heavy-handed approach to breaking up groups of more than five or enforcing the two-metre social distancing rule.

What they are doing is encouraging people to talk to each other about the new reality — and help each other out.

“We’re all learning this together with the community,” said police spokesman Const. John MacLeod.

“We’re trying to deal with this the same way everybody else is, and we’re trying to help people understand what the expectations are.”

READ MORE: Halifax Transit employee tests positive for COVID-19

The province of Nova Scotia declared a state of emergency on March 22 and the province’s chief medical officer of health, Dr. Robert Strang, has invoked the Health Protection Act to stem the spread of COVID-19.

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That’s given the police guidelines to follow, the same as the public — but those rules could change.

“It’s evolving so fast; we’re trying to keep up, ” MacLeod said.

Coronavirus outbreak: Nova Scotia declares state of emergency, fines possible for violations
Coronavirus outbreak: Nova Scotia declares state of emergency, fines possible for violations

Halifax Regional Police have created a new call type to be logged by patrol officers and dispatchers, classified as a “call for service” and related to COVID-19.

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In the first three days after the province declared the state of emergency on March 22, police answered 114 COVID-19-related calls for service.

“The majority of them were concerns about social distancing, ” MacLeod said. “People seeing groups here and there and having concerns about that.”

No tickets have been issued as a result of those calls, but MacLeod doesn’t rule out the possibility.

The approach police are taking right now is to talk to people and help them understand the new rules.

“Look, we just want people to play it safe,” MacLeod said.

READ MORE: Halifax contact centre employee calls for temporary closure after COVID-19 diagnosis at workplace

Some of the COVID-19 calls have involved neighbours calling police with concerns about people they believe may be infected or who have travelled recently.

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“There’s a lot of supposition going on by neighbours about who should be in self-isolation and who shouldn’t be,” MacLeod said. “We’re getting that, too.”

The provincial state of emergency is in effect until noon April 5, but it could be extended if health officials think it’s necessary.