Manitoba premier Brian Pallister speaks to media prior to the reading of the Speech from the Throne at the Manitoba Legislature in Winnipeg on October 7, 2019.  THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Manitoba government raises fines for COVID-19 violations amid higher numbers

Manitoba government raises fines for COVID-19 violations amid higher numbers

WINNIPEG — The Manitoba government has increased fines for people and businesses who ignore public health orders — its latest move to try to reverse rising COVID-19 case numbers.

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 contravene other rules, the penalty has risen to $5,000 from $2,542.

Premier Brian Pallister said Wednesday the fines are among the highest in the country and are needed to get everyone on board with rules set down by Dr. Brent Roussin, the province’s chief public health officer.

“The vast majority, it should be noted, of Manitobans are doing everything the doctor has … asked them to do,” Pallister said.

“Sadly though, there is a small, small minority of people who are not doing their part.”

The province is also working to change regulations so that municipal bylaw officers can be added to the ranks of inspectors and police enforcing the rules, Pallister said.

The crackdown follows weeks of rising numbers, especially in the Winnipeg region. The province announced 135 new cases Wednesday, with 102 of them in the provincial capital.

Health officials also announced the death from COVID-19 of a man in his 80s at Parkview Place, a Winnipeg care home where dozens of people have tested positive.

The greater Winnipeg area, which includes bedroom communities, was placed under tighter restrictions than the rest of the province in late September. Mask use was made mandatory in indoor public places and gathering were capped at 10 people.

More recently, the rules in the Winnipeg region were further tightened as the numbers remained high. Gatherings have been capped at five people, restaurants and bars have had to operate at 50 per cent capacity and some establishments, including casinos, bingo halls and live-entertainment nightclubs, have had to close for two weeks.

The province has issued 134 fines since the pandemic began, Pallister said. It’s unclear how many individuals have been fined, as the province only releases information about businesses that are penalized.

The Opposition New Democrats said the Progressive Conservative government must bear some of the blame for the rising COVID-19 numbers because of backlogs in testing and contact-tracing.

“It’s a lack of people having the ability to get a test promptly, (and) for us to be able to follow those contacts quickly before those people potentially spread the disease further,” NDP Leader Wab Kinew said.

Guaranteed paid sick leave for workers, which the province has promised but not yet delivered, would also help reduce the spread of the coronavirus by allowing sick people to stay home, Kinew added.

Some increased COVID-19 numbers are also being seen outside of the Winnipeg area. Exceldor has reported 27 cases at its large poultry plant in Blumenort, southeast of Winnipeg.

“We are dealing with cases of community transmission beyond our walls, therefore out of our control. As discussed with public health, we do not have evidence of workplace transmission,” spokesperson Gabrielle Fallu wrote in an email.

A union that represents 500 workers at the plant said the company was taking precautions.

“Exceldor has already implemented many items on behalf of safety for our members since the start of the pandemic, and they have added some new precautions since arrival of COVID-19 in the plant,” Bea Bruske, secretary-treasurer of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 83, said in a written statement.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 21, 2020.

Steve Lambert, The Canadian Press

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