Winnipeg police say they will now be intervening when called to reports of COVID-19 public health violations — breaking up parties and large gatherings and issuing fines.
Police had said in the past they would not be enforcing rules around public health orders.
But on Wednesday the service said they’ve reversed that decision in response to increasing cases and the government’s move to put Winnipeg under red, or critical, on the province’s COVID-19 response system.
“The Winnipeg Police Service has begun triaging calls from the public regarding gathering sizes in private residences and will dispatch resources to intervene as required,” reads the police release.
“Those who continue to gather in contravention of public health orders may be subject to enforcement action.”
Winnipeg police spokesperson Const. Rob Carver said Wednesday officers out of the service’s central division have been assigned to enforcing the public health orders as part of their regular duties, but wouldn’t say exactly how many members have been assigned.
He said officers will have discretion to use education, but the service will be focusing more on enforcement.
That enforcement could include breaking up large gatherings, taking names of those involved to pass along to public health, and handing out fines, he added.
“We may still do education … but the numbers dictate a different response and we’re acting accordingly,” he said.
“The numbers are up, our response is up.”
Carver said anyone reporting violations should call 311, not 911. He said 311 will remain open overnight and on weekends to take calls.
Last month the province increased fines for people and businesses who ignore public health orders, including gathering sizes limited to five people outside of a household in Winnipeg.
Under the changes, the fine for individuals who break self-isolation orders or violate rules such as a cap on public gatherings has jumped to $1,296 from $486.
For businesses that exceed capacity limits, fail to have proper physical distancing in place or break other rules, the penalty has risen to $5,000 from $2,542.
The government also passed legislation giving municipal bylaw officers the power to enforce public health orders in an effort to curb rising COVID-19 case numbers in Winnipeg and across the province.
The RCMP and other police agencies, the Health Protection Unit, Manitoba Conservation and Climate, Workplace Safety and Health, and the Liquor, Gaming and Cannabis Authority all also have the power to issue fines.
As of Wednesday morning, the Winnipeg Police Service has issued eight fines related to violations of COVID-19 public health orders since the start of the pandemic, while the RCMP has issued 42.
On Monday tighter public health restrictions were put in across the province after Manitoba has seen case counts climb steadily for weeks.
Winnipeg moved into the red zone on Manitoba’s pandemic response scale and the rest of the province was elevated to orange. The measures are expected to remain in place for at least two weeks.
Earlier this week Premier Brian Pallister said the province would be rolling out stepped-up enforcement details this week for large group gatherings held in violation of COVID-19 public health protocols.
His government is considering instituting a curfew to curb rising COVID-19 numbers.
Health officials reported 103 new cases of novel coronavirus Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases reported in Manitoba to 6,377.
They also reported five additional deaths — all in the Winnipeg region — bringing the provincial total to 85.
Questions about COVID-19? Here are some things you need to know:
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. In situations where you can’t keep a safe distance from others, public health officials recommend the use of a non-medical face mask or covering to prevent spreading the respiratory droplets that can carry the virus. In some provinces and municipalities across the country, masks or face coverings are now mandatory in indoor public spaces.
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