What can people do if they feel that others aren’t respecting the province’s – and the world’s – call for social distancing?
That’s the question that’s top of mind for many people as more and more COVID-19 cases emerge in B.C. and beyond everyday.
In the past few days, the Now-Leader has received several emails and calls from people concerned about the public’s lack of social distancing, including a “full-blown” soccer game at a Surrey park, a party in a residential neighbourhood and alleged wedding celebrations at a Surrey business centre and a home.
— Jay Tee (@thakorine) March 20, 2020
Since then, the City of Surrey has closed skateparks, playgrounds and courts, but not sports fields. The fields are closed for organized sports.
In a release, Mayor Doug McCallum stated that this latest move is due to a number of “individuals who are willfully ignoring the orders and measures issued by the Provincial Health Officer, such as gathering in large groups both in public spaces or at home.”
The Now-Leader has asked the city if it will be using bylaw officers to enforce social-distancing rules, but had not heard back by press time.
In her briefing in Vancouver on Friday (March 20), provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said, “I would encourage people to use social media to call people out, to say, ‘This is what we need to do now. We need to keep our germs to ourselves. We need to have small groups. We need to go online.’”
Henry said that when she’s been walking around recently, she’s seen a lot of young people who “feel like they’re immune to this, perhaps.”
“I look at the young people in my life and they spend all their time texting each other and they’re sitting right next to each other anyway. Let’s do that now because the people we’re going to bring it home to are the people that are closest to us, and that may be our grandparents and our parents, that may be somebody in our life whose immune system is compromised.”
Henry declared a provincial health emergency Tuesday as a result of the rising number of cases.
The public health emergency declaration allows for provincial health officer to make verbal mandates, and Health Minister to amend regulations without consent from the B.C. Legislature.
In a statement to the Now-Leader, the Joint Information Centre said that all British Columbians “must abide” by Henry’s orders, otherwise she “can enlist peace officers to enforce them if needed.”
These orders, according to the statement, “protect our most vulnerable, our health care system, and our health care workers who are undertaking a tremendously difficult task,” adding that while these orders are “temporary measures,” they will have “a positive long-term impact.”
The Now-Leader has reached out to both the City of Surrey and the Joint Information Centre to find out how and who people can contact about concerns with social distancing, as well as what kind of enforcement measures can be taken.
In her briefing Thursday (March 19), Henry said the COVID-19 precautions are “not optional.”
“This is not optional, and I want to be very clear that everybody has to take these actions now,” Henry said.
Meantime, the City of Vancouver will now fine businesses if they don’t obey the new COVID-19 rules. City council voted to impose fines of up to $50,000.
The announcement, originally made by Vancouver Mayor Stewart Kennedy on Sunday, is one of the biggest enforcement moves by a city in B.C. – as pictures of #COVIDIOTS, or people not following socially distancing guidelines, flood social media.
“The time of asking nicely is coming to an end,” said Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said.
While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said more “stringent measures” will come if Canadian’s ignore the COVID-19 guidelines.
“The duration of this crisis will be determined by the decisions we make right now. If you want things to go back to normal, do your part. Stay home,” Trudeau said.
But he said the federal government has no immediate plans to use cellphone data to track people’s movements during the crisis.
– With files from Tom Fletcher, Beau Simpson