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B.C. warns more COVID-19 restrictions possible, says current fines 'working well'

Last Updated Jan 25, 2021 at 11:02 pm PST

A fine handed out to a Kelowna church for defying COVID-19 restrictions banning in-person worship. This was the second ticket issued to the church. (Courtesy Facebook/HarvestMinistriesCanada)
Summary

Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday the number of new cases each day remains far too high

Health officials said further restrictions on risky behaviour like travel, gathering, could be coming

Minister Mike Farnworth said the current framework for fines working

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — As B.C.’s top doctor warns the province is on “the threshold” of a spike in COVID-19 cases — with further restrictions possible — the public safety minister says the current system for penalizing rule breakers is working.

Dr. Bonnie Henry said Monday the number of new cases each day remains far too high, as she announced the province is now working with “extremely limited” vaccine supply.

“500 people a day being infected is too high, it’s at a point where it takes very little for it to skyrocket,” she said. “But it often takes very little additional effort for all of us to bend that back down to where we were in the summer last year.”

RELATED: B.C.’s COVID-19 vaccine supply temporarily ‘dramatically reduced’

Further restrictions targeting situations where community transmission has been happening have not been ruled out, according to Henry.

“If we find that people are trying to bend the rules to suit their own needs, right now, that is going to mean that transmission will continue in our communities, and we’ll have to look at additional ways to prevent that,” she said.

“We’re still in a very high level, and it is those same things, it’s those travelling, and having social interactions that are not protected.”

Henry warned travel is increasingly risky with new more contagious variants of the virus circulating.

“The things that stop these variants are the things that stop the virus. That means stopping travel because we take our risk with us, and we bring the risk back from where we’ve been. We have called on people not to come to British Columbia right now. Interprovincial travel, international travel — that is something we should not be doing now,” she said.

Last week Premier John Horgan announced that an outright ban on interprovincial travel is not possible.

“We can impose restrictions on people travelling for non-essential purposes if they are causing harm to the health and safety of British Columbians,” he said in a statement.

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Henry also has some harsh criticism for a couple from British Columbia who were charged and fined after travelling to the Yukon to get the vaccine.

“I think they should be ashamed of themselves. They put a community at risk for their own benefit and that to me is appalling,” she said.

Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth also did not mince words when asked what he thought about the move.

“I can’t believe I’ve ever seen or heard of such a despicable, disgusting, sense of entitlement and lack of a moral compass,” he said.

Current penalties for rule-breakers ‘by and large have been working’: Farnworth 

While Farnworth points out any consequences for this couple’s behaviour fall outside his jurisdiction, he says the current framework for penalizing rule breakers in B.C. is working, and would not say if the province has any plans to increase fines.

“The fines that we have seen to date, I think, by and large, have been working. Over 700 fines and tickets have been issued, another 80 fines for people violating the quarantine act,” he said.

“The first measure is always education. And then for people who don’t get that message, the fines kick in. People can be fined repeatedly, and depending on the nature of the offence, the police can look at other more significant penalties, or in fact criminal charges, if things such as assault are involved.”

The maximum fine for someone violating the current COVID-19 order is $2,300 but Farnworth pointed to a section that does allow for stricter penalties.

“If violation tickets do not act as a deterrent, or in cases of particularly egregious contraventions, or for repeat offenders, police can recommend charges in relation to the offence. On conviction, judicial penalties of up to $10,000 and/or one year in prison may be imposed,” it reads.

But Farnworth says those cases would have to wind their way through the courts.

“There’s also a balance between what can be levied and achieved reasonably quickly, and other fines, which can have the impact of causing a considerable delay,” he said.

RELATED STORY: Vancouver man may be arrested after refusing to answer door at ‘makeshift nightclub’

In Vancouver, police announced Monday they are pursuing the arrest of a condo-owner accused of running a “makeshift nightclub” downtown.

Police were tipped off when a woman called them to say she had been invited to a party. When she got to the unit on Richards Street, police say she told them there were about 100 people inside, as well as a doorman who appeared to be collecting a cover charge. The doorman was slapped with $2,500 in fines. According to the VPD, this is the fourth party the apartment owner has hosted this month.

Farnworth was circumspect when asked if there are any changes planned when it comes to enforcement or penalties.

“We work with the provincial health officer, we work with police, we work with communities, and we work with the court system in terms of the kinds of approaches that need to be taken. I think the approach that we’ve taken in B.C. has been the right approach.”

With files from Marcella Bernardo and HanaMae Nassar