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COVID-19 adds new wrinkle to police response in New Brunswick

New Brunswick police monitoring how they respond to calls during coronavirus pandemic
The COVID-19 outbreak has put added pressure on police to ensure the safety of the public and themselves when they are called to a scene where the virus may be present. Tim Roszell explains.

The COVID-19 outbreak has put added pressure on police to ensure the safety of the public and themselves when they are called to a scene where the virus may be present.

But several police forces in New Brunswick say they’re ready.

The Kennebecasis Regional Police Force (KRPF) was one of the first forces to put that to the test.

READ MORE: N.B. man arrested for coughing in someone’s face ‘while feeling ill’

On Thursday they were called to a home on Hampton Road in Rothesay, N.B., after a dispute erupted among a group of people, two of whom were being accused of not self-isolating after recent international travel.

A man was arrested for assault after allegedly coughing, on purpose, in the face of another individual.

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The post office in Rothesay was shutdown when, through the course of the investigation, it was learned the two recent travellers had allegedly visited there.

Insp. Anika Becker of the KRPF said this was the force’s first call of this type since the outbreak began. But she said officers were ready.

“All of our officers have been issued personal protective equipment,” Becker said. “This includes things such as goggles and face masks, gloves. And they’ve all been trained on how to use them. You’ll see that will be quite normal from now on.”

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Becker said Kennebecasis police has closed its doors to the public, staggered management hours to limit the number of people in the building at the same time and implemented other measures to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

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It’s a similar story with the Saint John Police Force.

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Spokesperson Jim Hennessy said dispatchers are now asking four additional COVID-19-related questions before sending police to a call.

“What they entail is, ‘Have you been out of the country?'” said Hennessy. “‘Have you travelled internationally in the past month?’ Those are some of the questions we ask so that when the call comes in, then we can correspond with the sergeants and staff sergeants.”

READ MORE: First responders in Atlantic Canada changing procedures

Fredericton Police are also asking extra questions, according to spokesperson Alycia Bartlett.

“We will continue to assess and adapt to the situation, in consultation with government and our law enforcement partners should the need arise,” Bartlett said, in an email to Global News.

New Brunswick RCMP spokesperson Jullie Rogers-Marsh said it’s not clear if overall call volumes in the province have increased since the outbreak began, but she confirmed the Mounties are getting calls related to COVID-19.

Hennessy and Rogers-Marsh both said police are using the telephone more to respond to calls for service, where possible, rather than attending the calls in person.

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Becker said officers know the unpredictability which comes with responding to calls.

She said Thursday’s alleged incident, and future ones like it, just “add a new level of things to be hyper-vigilant about.”

“[Thursday’s call] hit them a little more close to home because now we’re dealing with calls where they could be exposed [to COVID-19], as opposed to just hearing about it.”

The post office in Rothesay was open for business Friday.

Becker said the province’s non-compliance branch was notified about the incident.

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Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:

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Health officials caution against all international travel. Returning travellers are legally obligated to self-isolate for 14 days, beginning March 26, in case they develop symptoms and to prevent spreading the virus to others. Some provinces and territories have also implemented additional recommendations or enforcement measures to ensure those returning to the area self-isolate.

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. They also recommend minimizing contact with others, staying home as much as possible and maintaining a distance of two metres from other people if you go out.

For full COVID-19 coverage from Global News, click here.