Enforcement of Manitoba’s COVID-19 public health orders saw a 167 per cent spike in tickets last week, driven in large part by those caught holding gatherings.
And the province says two of those now facing fines were attendees at a large outdoor rally against COVID-19 restrictions held in Winnipeg over the weekend.
According to provincial enforcement numbers released Tuesday, 33 of 39 tickets to individuals for various offences handed out between April 19 and 25 were connected with gatherings held either outdoors or in private residences.
The tickets come with a $1,296 fine.
The news comes after hundreds of people — most of whom were seen not wearing masks and not social distancing — gathered for an anti-COVID-19 restrictions rally at The Forks on Sunday. The Forks closed its doors Sunday afternoon due to safety concerns surrounding the event.
While the enforcement numbers don’t specify exactly how many of the tickets went to those at the rally, Justice Minister Cameron Friesen said two people were fined at the event.
Enforcement officers did not stop the event but were collecting video footage and other evidence while keeping a low profile, said Friesen.
“It was the determination of those individuals who were acting for the province at the time that they would do so without attracting attention to themselves,” he said.
“It’s up to the officers who are at those events to decide how to proceed in a manner that keeps everyone safe.”
The rally saw several hundred people congregate and listen to a series of speakers denounce public health orders aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19.
One fine given at the rally was for violating mandatory self-isolation orders when arriving from other provinces and the other was for attending a larger-than-permitted gathering.
More fines are anticipated as the investigation continues and the video footage is reviewed, Friesen said.
The Opposition New Democrats say enforcement must be stepped up to prevent pandemic case numbers from growing, and to show people that following the rules is important.
“You can’t ask Manitobans to go into another lockdown … and leave folks out who are breaking those public-health orders and (have) no consequences for these individuals,” NDP justice critic Nahanni Fontaine said.
In all, the province says 56 tickets were handed out last week, up from 21 given out the week before. A total of 92 warnings were also given last week.
As well as the 39 tickets to individuals for various offences, 17 $298 tickets for failing to wear a mask in indoor public places were also handed out last week.
In response to rising daily COVID-19 numbers and a concerning spread of variants of concern in Manitoba, the government announced Monday further public health restrictions will go into effect Wednesday for at least the next four weeks.
Manitoba is banning nearly all indoor and outdoor social visits at people’s homes as part of the new measures, with exceptions for people who live alone, who will be allowed one designated guest.
The province is also tightening restrictions on churches, shopping malls, retail stores and gyms to try to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.
Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister also said enforcement of the public-health orders will be stepped up, but did not reveal details.
Currently, nearly 3,300 personnel across various agencies are currently able to enforce public health orders.
Since the province’s enforcement efforts kicked off a year ago, officials have handed out 1,236 tickets and given 3,896 warnings, bringing in more than $1.7 million in fines to Manitoba businesses and individuals.
–With files from Steve Lambert at The Canadian Press and Global’s Anya Nazeravich
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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